It never occurred to me how good God was to Hagar, a female slave in the Bible. Even though it could feel like she was wrongly treated, being sent away into the desert with her son, God gave her the greatest gift she could ever have – her freedom.
Yet, in order to gain that freedom, Hagar had to leave. She had to leave that strange sense of security in her slavery, where all her physical needs had been met. And we too can remain where we are, in our untenable situations, because in some way our needs are met.
Oh, the kindness of God, to get us kicked out. Oh, the lostness we will feel in this uncomfortable place. But, once we look around at the new life we have, God shows us a better way to live. ‘Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water’ (Genesis 21:19). Hagar used her freedom to provide for another – she gave her son a drink.
(photo by Dmitriy Ganin: pexels.com)
This past week, I spent hours upcycling old bricks, chipping off old cement. But I also spent those hours thinking about Nelson Mandela. As a prisoner, he too chipped away at stones in a quarry, and after 27 years, he still could forgive.
If he had the courage to do that, so could I. So, I chipped and prayed about a painful situation… Then it dawned on me – God is above every manipulation, and no one can ruin his plans.
I finished that pile of bricks and late that night, I stopped fretting about my apparent ruin. I was still on track in God’s eyes. I could forgive. I could leave bitterness behind, because God is above all.
(photo by Magda Ehlers: https://www.pexels.com)
The beauty of being human is that each of us has inherent privileges. In the beginning, God lavished Adam and Eve with ones which gave them emotional life. Love and friendship. To make their own choices and speak their mind. The privilege to learn from mistakes and grow wiser. To work creatively and have faith… Each one is essential in God’s eye.
Now, if any one of these was forcibly removed from our lives, the way God created us to function would die in that area. And this is a death. It will affect every other area in life.
If my freedom to speak is torn from me, it affects my friendships, choices, and my opportunities to grow. It affects my decisions…
How can we/I regain these stolen privileges?
(photo by Felipe Vallin: https://www.pexels.com)
As I watched the river break its banks, a verse came to mind: “His voice was like the roar of rushing waters.” (Ezekiel 43:2) God was speaking. Was I listening?
This is what I heard… Just as this river overflowed its banks, so God breaks free from the banks we build around him. He won’t be controlled or hemmed in by our standards, but often he lives within them, just because he knows how easily we scare. But then comes the moment where he shows who he is. His awesome power. His purpose and direction. His majesty.
He gives us a glimpse so that we can live the same way. A torrent of his love.
In the space of four days, opposite events occurred:
- Someone said something with an intent to destroy.
- A friend took me to the National Art Gallery in London.
I sat before a painting with my friend – The Raising of Lazarus.* It mirrored my circumstances… Lazarus was dead, and I felt the same. But, four days later Jesus told the mourners to open to tomb. An awful smell poured out. Yet, Jesus called out, “Lazarus, come out!”**
…I sat there. Lazarus was me. Jesus was calling. I lived! Lazarus tore off his shroud. I could tear off mine. I could be free!
You see, death-like words don’t have to hold us down. “Come out!” Jesus calls to each one of us. We can choose to get up and LIVE!
* Sebastiano del Piombo, 1517-19 **from John 11
Derek bought me a hat, a green one with a bow in the back. We both like it, but others have not been so positive. “You look eccentric!” “You really look funny!” And the best one.. “Your hat looks like a lily pad!”
I appreciate the honesty. But… there is a wonderful verse in the Bible. It says that God “has made everything beautiful in its time.”* We don’t need to worry about opinions. God created beauty to stand out as different, for that is what beauty is. Each of us is beautiful, regardless of our peculiarities.
I still wear my hat, and when people meet me, they nod and smile. They even stop for a chat. My lily-pad hat might be eccentric, but so is God’s love.
* (Ecclesiastes 3:11)
You might remember… my memoir wasn’t published because of a threat of legal action. A full year later the threat still exists. Yup! It’s an accomplishment that deserves the equivalent of a boy-scout badge.
It was also a test to find out what is really inside me. Sure, I found anger and the desire for revenge, but I also found something else. The strength to get back up. The ability to forgive. The courage to consider that I might be getting another badge next year.
I find God does that with troubles. He uses them to teach us about ourselves. He uses them to make us deeper and truer. “It is God who arms us with strength and makes our way perfect.” (from Psalm 18:32) It is God.
I wish it hadn’t happened, but this thing called fear was planted inside me as a child. Even now it tries to grab a hold of me. It tries to take over.
I can tell you that fear is a prison. It tears away from us the courage to fight back. It makes us powerless. But knowledge of fear, and how it works, doesn’t mean it goes away.
There is only one way I have found to overcome fear. I make a choice. I choose to look at God, not the one who causes fear. I choose to care what God thinks of me, not the opinions of others. I choose to be what God wants me to be, not what others demand.
When I do that, fear disappears.
You probably know how hard it is when those we love push us away…
- If you don’t do what I say, you can’t be my friend.
- If you love me, you will never disagree with me.
- If you care for me, you won’t tell the truth.
What are we supposed to do? We are upset and scared.
But God doesn’t push us away. He says, “I, even I, am he who comforts you. Who are you that you fear mortal men? … I have put my words in your mouth and covered you with the shadow of my hand.” (Isaiah 51:12,16)
God gives us his dignity. He gives us the wisdom how to respond. He protects us. We can move on.
Memories can become our masters. When we have been broken and hurt, and don’t know how to move on, those memories enslave us. It is as if they take over our life.
In the Bible God’s people were enslaved as well. They knew they couldn’t escape the pain and suffering inflicted on them. God knew they couldn’t… He rescued them. He sent hope. “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today… The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.” (Exodus 14:13-14)
Let God fight for your heart today. Believe him when he says, “Don’t be afraid.”