COLUMN: And God heard the voice

Published 7:40 pm Sunday, July 2, 2023

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Deep down, you and I probably share a yearning to be noticed and heard. To be clear, that yearning shouldn’t come close to being the guiding force that sets the direction of our lives. History is littered with the wreckage of problems caused by people, business leaders and nations who were trying too desperately to be noticed and heard. 

But deep down, we all have that desire I think. When challenges or problems arise, we have even more reasons to need for someone, maybe anyone, to hear our voice.

The father speaks glowingly of his offspring as a group. The mother works dutifully to treat them all the same. But, over time family and friends notice that there is one who is not spoken of quite the same as the others.

Genesis 21: 8-21 shows us a complicated and blended family dynamic. It’s Cinderella, it’s a classic sibling rivalry.

We’ve known the easy child and the high-maintenance child. The lucky child and the hard-luck child. The wise child and the child who will not grow up. The child-prodigy who has a mature soul and the child who somehow fails to launch.

There are children who were always upset about the littlest thing, and laidback children who were hard to rattle. Children who grew into adulthood and still have to always be starting something. Children who grew to understand the beauty of less drama.

There are also the adult children who want nothing more than for mom or dad to be happy, that is until after a respectful time when their parents got remarried to someone else who wasn’t their mother or their father. Suddenly, not all in the family are created equally.

Life among us as family can surely seem to get complicated, can’t it. Someone has said that “One of our hardest moments in all of life is the day we wake up and realize that our family isn’t the perfect one from the Norman Rockwell painting, gathered around the Thanksgiving table.”

Abraham and Sarah had conceded that they would not likely have a child of their own, advanced in age as they were. Yet their dream of having children had been a strong one. In that culture, it was all the more expected and necessary so that family business and customs could carry on.

So, it was permitted that Hagar the slave girl could be Sarah’s proxy, if you will. A surrogate, we would call her today. The step-child was born in Sarah’s presence and this child began to grow up. Things weren’t ideal, but they were as they were permitted to be. The best they could be.

Except eventually we saw them receive the surprise that made them laugh. Abraham and Sarah would also be expecting a child of their own. A child who would be revered, named Isaac, would be all theirs. He was a late-in-life child. 

We aren’t privy to what flipped the switch inside Sarah. We can only speculate in the face of Sarah’s newfound conviction that Hagar and Ishmael had to go. Soon, Hagar and her young son are set out to leave with not much more than a container of water.

The water didn’t last long. The deserts of our lives can be deadly. Hagar tucked Ishmael up under a tree for shelter. Then lifted her cry of despair. She leaned up against him in defeat. There seemed to be no outcome for them except death. They had nothing, and they had control over nothing. 

Then, the boy Ishmael began his own crying. Our text says that God heard his cry, and had compassion on them. God heard them.

I don’t know about you, but I have wept my greatest hurts to God. I have cried out my despair in the middle of the night and have lamented my lack of answers, resources or hope. I have thought I was ruined, out of options and I have thought my heart was too hurt to trust or love again. Not once have I found God to be anything other than faithful and able in the end.

God hears us. The answers might not be the ones we are begging for. The cosmic quiet of our souls may go on for far longer than we want, waiting and waiting. But in God’s perfect time, our lives seem to join back into the greater whole and we can find ourselves in a place of surprise and grace greater than our limited capacities could have dreamed.

Dr. Charles Qualls is senior pastor at Franklin Baptist Church. Contact him at 757-562-5135.