Wednesday, May 13, 2009

What Does Giving All Really Mean?

I'm reading A. W. Tozer's The Pursuit of God - one of the books on my grad school pre-reading list (you know, in case I ever take another class or something) - and a concept jumps out at me.

I don't know about you, but there are quite a few places in scripture that bother me. There are things which make me want to yell at God, "What were You thinking? How could You do that?!" The story of Abraham sacrificing his son, Isaac, is one of those places.

A quick recap for those of you unfamiliar with the story:
Abraham is the father of the Hebrew people. He was called by God to be the father of untold millions of God's people. Promised. God moved him from his home and kept him moving till he got where he was supposed to be - the Promised Land. Abraham was married to Sarah. For many, many years.

One little glitch - Sarah was barren. No babies coming from her belly. At all. So Sarah hooks Abe up with her maid, Haggar. Tells him if he wants a kid, he's gotta sleep with Haggar. She makes sure God keeps His promise, since God doesn't come through. A promise is a promise, after all.

Years later, one teenager running around the house (Haggar's kid, Ishmael), Sarah gets pregnant. Abraham is about 100 years old. Sarah is 90. NINETY. Yeah. Pregnancy. Labor. Delivery. Abraham falls head over heels in love with this baby boy, Isaac, the promised child, the one who'll be the father of millions.

Fast forward to adolescence, or maybe even young adulthood for Isaac. God talks to Abraham and tells him he has to make a sacrifice, to slaughter on an altar. He has to kill Isaac. The only son of his beloved wife. The promised child, now man. He has to kill his boy.

I never got this. I never got God putting Abraham through this. The "why" of it has always escaped me. Was it just to prove obedience? It seemed very cruel. And I know that there's a lot I don't get about God and never will. I know that I see things through my twisted perspective. But this has always gotten under my skin.

Tozer tells the story for me, while I wait for the punch line. He talks about this old man, his last night with his boy, under the stars while Isaac sleeps (Isaac doesn't know his role in the story yet), wrestling with God, finally giving in.

Tozer talks about Abraham's love for his boy. An all consuming love. Here's how he puts it: "The baby represented everything sacred to his father's heart: the promises of God, the covenants, the hopes of the years and the long messanic dream. As he watched him grow from babyhood to manhood, the heart of the old man was knit closer and closer with the life of his son, till at last the relationship bordered upon the perilous. It was then that God stepped in to save both father and son from the consequenses of an uncleansed love."

I love how Tozer puts it next: "... a man who possessed nothing. He had concentrated his all in the person of his dear son, and God had taken it from him. ... After that bitter and blessed experience I think the words me and mine never again had the same meaning for Abraham. The sense of possession they connote was gone from his heart.."

Tozer began the conversation with possessions - do they possess my heart or does God? How attached am I to the things in my life? I didn't expect him to take it as far as my children. Ouch. To whom do I belong, really?

The story of this sacrifice ends with Isaac tied to an altar, Abraham with knife raised, and an angel interfering at the last minute with a ram in the bush nearby. The favored son is spared. Abraham is a changed man. He was willing to do all God asked. His heart was solely his God's.

This story reminded me of the time, eight years ago, when the Hunny and I could have moved to Tulsa. I wanted it so badly I could taste it. I'd wanted to move here for 12 years prior. I wanted to be out of hot, flat, humid Florida. I wanted to be away from my in-laws. I wanted to be near my brother and his family. My heart was screaming for all of it. It was all I could smell and taste.

Hunny was offered a job in Tulsa. He was only employed part-time, so the offer looked good. I was ecstatic. Over the moon is a mild way to say it. I just knew we were moving to Tulsa!

Hunny and I prayed about it for days. Hunny did NOT want to move. He'd never been away from his family. He certainly didn't want to move away from the ocean. And definitely not to brown Tulsa. But he was willing to listen to God and do what He wanted. My Hunny very specifically asked me to pray. He felt like the answer would come through me.

Can I just tell you how exciting THAT was? I just KNEW we were moving to Tulsa! Why on earth did I even need to pray? But I knew I needed to. So I did.

Do you know where God kept taking me? Over and over to the same place in scripture, whether in my heart, in various readings, in conversation with friends. And I so did not want to tell the Hunny. I only did so with the heaviest of hearts.

God kept taking me to Ruth. Specifically to the part where she tells her MIL that she'll follow her anywhere. I was supposed to let my Hunny make the decision and follow him or stay, as he chose.

When I told the Hunny, his entire face lit up. On his end, he'd been terrified that we'd be moving within a month. Relief was visible all over his face. We stayed. Another five years we stayed.

It took a lot longer than one night wrestling under the stars, but I had to give up something precious to me that day and the days following. I was crushed. But I made the decision to be complete and content where I was. I could have easily lied to my Hunny, could have given him my "maid", told some story, to attain the dream and move. I chose to be obedient, knowing what it would cost.

Looking back, I can see the beauty which has come from the decision. I can see that I had no idea what God was up to. No idea how He planned to grow us both there in Florida. How moving then would have been a VERY BAD thing for us both, for our marriage. But oh how it hurt.

When we finally moved, the time was right. So much has happened, so much water under the bridge. I still don't think I can claim, as Abraham could, that I'm not holding on or attached to something or someone rather than God. But I know the feeling of being so obsessed with an idea, a place, a person, and having to sacrifice it in obedience. I know the crushing, agonizing experience of handing it all over, trusting, but just knowing it will kill me in the process. I also know the abundant blessing on the other side of it.

Thanks for hanging in there with me. I know this isn't the lighthearted Flea today. In a sense, though, I'm much lighter hearted than I once was.

Until I write again ...



Laura ~Peach~ said...

one prayer i always pray before reading the bible is to have understanding of what i am reading... some things have made sense that never did before.,, and some just odnt matter right now as much. All in Gods time :)

Jeannelle said...

Wow, Flea....tremendous post. You relay these deep thoughts in excellent form!

In the church I attend, I'm not accustomed to hearing Abraham's story brought to a personal level, which you have done here. What they say in my church is that the Abraham/Isaac story is a precursor to God sacrificing His Son on the Cross....period.

I appreciate your deeply personal view of the story. If your writing isn't as typically lighthearted today, it is certainly righthearted.

Anonymous said...

You're a natural story teller Flea! I'm glad you're light of heart now.

I know the Old Goat and I have had moments where we have each wanted something and were certain that doing it was the right thing and would yeild benefits for us. And the other one was unsure. Just the process of talking about it, wrestling with it, coming back and talking about it again helped the one who wanted it so desperately to realize that you couldn't rely on that one "thing" to make things better, you had to make things better first. Then you wouldn't be looking for the magic bullet. And yes, I've been the one that wanted "something" in such an all consuming way!

These are the things that help us grow, huh?

mumple said...

Been there, done that. We've learned (and re-learned) that God put us together, the way we are together, and that He'll keep us together, the way we're supposed to be together, where we're supposed to be.

It's hard sometimes, but always always always better than we could have dreamed it to be.

Daryl said...

I have a different take ... things happen when/how they are supposed to happen ... its called fate ... I am not knocking prayer or your belief, ...just sayin'

Anonymous said...

OOOOOOHHH a very thought provoking Flea today!!! I love it!

Our perspectives in the middle of stuff is often whacked... darn it.

abb said...

I'm sort of half way between you dna Daryl.

Krista said...

Sometimes we are given experiences to keep us humble - and it's not very comfortable to say the least. We always see the purpose much later on and realize the strength you gained. He refines us like silver in the fire but come out beautiful in the end.

Leenie said...

Very thought provoking...your post as well as the comments above. I always find it amazing to look back and see where my decisions, or steps out into the darkness with faith, have led me and my family. Staying true to what you believe is not always easy, but it sure makes it easier to face yourself. I liked the new view of Abraham as well.

~ Straight Shooter ~ said...

Dead on Girl.

zobabe said...

Perfect timing. Thanks. I needed that very badly, Flea.

Pat - Arkansas said...

Good to see you again, too, Flea. I had "lost" you, too. Lots to catch up on here. Thanks for your visit to my Cat Tales.

I very much enjoyed this post. I have never before thought of the Abraham/Isaac story this way, but it makes sense.