WHAT HAGAR TAUGHT ME

Activated - - NEWS - BY ROALD WAT­TER­SON ROALD WAT­TER­SON IS AN ED­I­TOR AND CON­TENT DE­VEL­OPER.

I HAD A BA­SIC KNOWLEDGE OF WHO HAGAR WAS through the var­i­ous il­lus­trated Bi­bles I had read as a child. But this year, af­ter de­cid­ing to read through the Bible cover to cover, I came away from her story with new per­spec­tives on God’s in­di­vid­ual love for each of us.

Hagar was an Egyp­tian ser­vant to Sarah, Abra­ham’s wife. She first

1 ap­pears as some­what of a se­condary char­ac­ter in the story of Abra­ham and the covenants God makes with him. God had promised Abra­ham off­spring as count­less as the stars, but Sarah— still not preg­nant, and grow­ing im­pa­tient at the lack of ful­fill­ment of God’s prom­ise—asks Abra­ham to take on her ser­vant Hagar as a con­cu­bine.

Abra­ham agrees, and Hagar soon finds her­self ex­pect­ing a child. This is where things be­gin to get dicey. Jewish and Mus­lim tra­di­tions say that Hagar was the daugh­ter of a pharaoh and had been given to Abra­ham as a gift dur­ing one of his so­journs in Egypt. Whether this is fac­tual or not is hard to de­ter­mine. Re­gard­less of sta­tus, I be­gan to imag­ine how iso­lated this Egyp­tian girl must have felt amidst a peo­ple and cul­ture com­pletely dif­fer­ent from her own. So when she finds her­self preg­nant, per­haps she be­gins to feel that things are looking up for her. Per­haps she hopes that here is a way to de­fine her­self amidst a strange peo­ple. Per­haps she be­gins to gloat. What­ever the case, the Bible tells us that she “be­gan to de­spise her mis­tress.”

2 Sarah com­plains to Abra­ham, and Abra­ham tells Sarah that Hagar is her busi­ness, and that Sarah can do as she sees fit. What­ever Sarah de­cided to do caused preg­nant Hagar to run away into the desert, where we next find her sit­ting by a spring, slak­ing her thirst.

Here is the part of the story that I love: God sends an an­gel to find this run­away girl and talk her into re­turn­ing to Abra­ham’s camp. This was a girl who by then prob­a­bly felt worth­less, un­wanted, and unloved; a girl with an ego and faults and fail­ings; a girl who was Egyp­tian, and who per­haps still held on to her pre­vi­ous tra­di­tions and pa­gan gods; a girl who had de­spised her mis­tress; a girl who would doubt­less go on to screw up more times in the future.

But here in the desert—in the midst of her de­spair—God ap­pears to Hagar, be­cause un­der­neath the lay­ers of cir­cum­stance and choice and faults and fail­ing beat the heart of a cre­ation God had breathed life into. And that’s what God sees and is out to res­cue when He sends an an­gel to find this girl whose ex­is­tence be­gan in His imag­i­na­tion and whose life story He had recorded in His book.

That one en­counter with an an­gel in that desert place is enough to

en­cour­age Hagar to re­turn home. But be­fore do­ing so, she gives a name to this God who searched her out and spoke to her. She called Him “the God who sees me.”

3 You know those days when you’re not looking or feel­ing your best? Mine are gen­er­ally marked by bad hair, a ratty sweater that’s as com­fort­able as it is ugly, mis­matched cloth­ing, and an in­tense de­sire to not be seen by any­one. Some­times my spir­i­tual lacks also make me feel like tak­ing cover, such as when I have ques­tions about how much I love God, or at­ti­tudes that need toss­ing, or prayers I’m ne­glect­ing to pray, or things I’m not get­ting around to. These are things that make me feel quite un­wor­thy of be­ing seen by God.

But it’s the times when you feel most un­wor­thy of love, and yet God does some­thing for you and says you are still wor­thy, that change you. And that’s what God did for Hagar that day. He showed her that He cared for her, He was watch­ing out for her, and He had a plan for her life. That’s the power of be­ing seen by God. It was that power that gave Hagar in­ner strength to turn around and re­turn to a sit­u­a­tion that she’d felt was in­tol­er­a­ble just days be­fore.

There’s so much I like about this story, but here are three main points:

First, there are no se­condary char­ac­ters to God. Per­haps bib­li­cal nar­ra­tive has com­pressed Hagar’s story into one or two chap­ters, and ad­dresses her role as a sup­port­ing one to the cen­tral story of Abra­ham and Sarah. But God had a book with her name on it, in which she was the star—the story of her life. And that is true for ev­ery­one who feels like a se­condary char­ac­ter in some­one else’s story.

Sec­ond, God is aware of the ugli­est, low­est mo­ments of your life, yet He still be­lieves in you. Wher­ever you’re at right now, what­ever your spir­i­tual or phys­i­cal state, God sees you and be­lieves in you.

Third, I love that God went and found Hagar when she ran away. There are so many times in my life when I’ve run away from sit­u­a­tions. Per­haps not phys­i­cally, but I’ve emo­tion­ally high­tailed it, or closed my­self off when feel­ing over­whelmed. I know I’ve done this to God as well. But God sees just where I’m at, emo­tion­ally and phys­i­cally—ge­o­graph­i­cally, too—and there’s noth­ing that can sep­a­rate me from His love.

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