January 17, 2010

Decisions on the Journey with Hagar

Last week we looked at the general steps for a journey of any kind. Now we are going to step into Hagar’s story and see how her decisions on her journey can inform us and guide us. You can find the story in Genesis 16. In perhaps the first recorded instance of a surrogate mother, Sarai, wife of Abram (later their names are changed to Sarah and Abraham), gives her slave girl to her husband because she is barren. [Note, there is a second time when Hagar leaves. After Isaac is born, Sarai sends her away. (Gen. 21:10-21)]

To set the stage--Ten years earlier, (Gen. 12:10-20) Abram and his tribe went to Egypt during a time of famine. Because of her beauty, Sarai was taken into the Pharaoh’s harem thanks to a little white lie by Abram, who said “she is my sister.” Pharaoh was pleased “and for her sake he dealt well with Abram; and he had sheep, oxen, male donkeys, male and female slaves, female donkeys, and camels.” Among these is probably Hagar. However, God sent plagues on Pharaoh’s household and Abram, Sarai, and all he had leave Egypt and return to Canaan.

Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, bore him no children. She had an Egyptian slave-girl whose name was Hagar, and Sarai said to Abram, ‘You see that the LORD has prevented me from bearing children; go in to my slave-girl; it may be that I shall obtain children by her.’ And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai. So, after Abram had lived for ten years in the land of Canaan, Sarai, Abram’s wife, took Hagar the Egyptian, her slave-girl, and gave her to her husband Abram as a wife. He went in to Hagar, and she conceived; and when she saw that she had conceived, she looked with contempt on her mistress. Then Sarai said to Abram, ‘May the wrong done to me be on you! I gave my slave-girl to your embrace, and when she saw that she had conceived, she looked on me with contempt. May the LORD judge between you and me!’ But Abram said to Sarai, ‘Your slave-girl is in your power; do to her as you please.’ Then Sarai dealt harshly with her, and she ran away from her. (Gen. 16:1-6)
In this situation, all three participants had decisions to make about their journey in the relationship(s). Sarai’s goal is to provide an heir for her husband. She decides the best way is to use her maid as a surrogate. (It has been learned that this was a common practice during this time of history.) Abram decides to agree to his wife’s proposal because he, too, wants a son. Hagar, as a slave, probably had little to say about the initial transaction. When she conceives, she makes a decision that will change the direction of her journey, but differently than she anticipated.
“I have shown myself fertile,” she thought to herself. “My mistress cannot get pregnant. If I am wise I can become the favored one of my master.”

Sarai was not willing to let an arrogant slave supplant her role as first wife. Hagar’s plan starts to go awry when her attitude leads to Sarai’s exasperated and agonized cry to Abram, “May the Lord judge between you and me.” Abram’s response is designed to sooth his wife and get him out of trouble, “do to her as you please.”

Hagar planned for her journey to be ‘upwardly mobile,’ instead she finds herself treated harshly and decides to run away.

“That will teach them,” she tells herself. “I’ll leave with the baby in my womb. Then Abram will still be childless, angry with Sarai for sending me away, and I can return in triumph.”

One thing that surprised me in this re-reading of the story was Hagar’s attitude. She saw herself as the victim and it affected her actions—her plans for her journey. If Hagar had joyfully embraced the idea of being a surrogate mother and bearing a child for Abram, a wealthy and honored chieftain, she would have expressed a different attitude toward Sarai and the downward spiral of rage and running away would never have happened.

I realize that I don’t respond joyfully to all opportunities and journeys, either. In fact, I very often argue and complain when things don’t go my way. Like Hagar, I decide to run away to avoid the difficulties of ‘birthing’ a task. It’s all related to my attitude about the journey. If the trip seems onerous or boring or too long, I pout and complain. “Are we there yet?” becomes my plaint, like a small child.

What would it be like to live life looking forward to each new turn in the road as an adventure? This week, I challenge myself, and you, to look at the myriad experiences that cross your path as the basis for joy rather than reasons for complaining. Like these cats, I am going to try and see the things I call "obstacles" as fun experiences that stretch my (spiritual) muscles instead of frightening roadblocks that keep me from doing whtat I want...

Next week, we will continue to look at Hagar's story and see what happens when we find ourselves at the 'end of our rope.' See you then.

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