A Lenten Devotional
The following was written as a devotional for Brentwood Presbyterian Church shared here for its relevance to the current state of events.
“Do not let me look on the death of my child.” Genesis 21:16
Hagar’s desperate prayer flows from the depth of a mother’s pain.
As Hagar runs out of food and water, she feels nothing but despair. Having nothing else to offer her dying son, hopelessness bleeds Hagar’s soul. As she helplessly watches the precious life drained from her cherished child she is holding in her arms, all she can do is plead for mercy. Hagar has only enough strength to ask that she is taken first, so she does not have to watch her child die.
Hagar is a used and abused woman. Hagar was an alien servant in Abraham and Sarah’s household, and she was forced to bear a child for Abraham. Her son, Ishmael, was loved and adored as Abraham’s heir until Sarah, Abraham’s wife, had her own child, Isaac. Ishmael was then cast away as a threat to Isaac’s inheritance. Hagar and Ishmael were thrown out like yesterday’s garbage.
Jobless and homeless in a land that was not her own, Hagar was hopeless. As the unrelenting heat of the desert sun dried her soul, all she could do was to surrender to sorrow and death. With her last breath, she prays to a foreign God.
The grief-stricken prayer of a discarded foreigner mother rising from a desert of death is heard by a merciful God. To a woman thrown out as worthless, a gracious God moves heaven and earth. To a child cast away as a threat, a loving God provides a stream of living water. To a despairing mother, a divine messenger delivers a divine promise of life and prosperity, “I will make him a great nation.”
Hagar’s cry for mercy, that a mother be spared from having to see her child die, is still cried by millions of mothers all over the world. For years we have witnessed Middle Eastern and African mothers making the perilous journey on overloaded leaky boats trying to cross the Mediterranean Ocean in hopes of saving their children from war and famine. Thousands of Central American mothers are still saying heartbreaking goodbyes to their precious children and sending them on a treacherous two-thousand-mile journey, unaccompanied, so they can have an opportunity to live in peace elsewhere, without them.
I cannot imagine the pain of Hagar, the desperation of a mother as she has to send her child away to keep them alive, or the guilt of a mother as she has to put her child’s life into the hands of shady human traffickers. Some of us had felt in life a similar sapping despair when we have lost loved ones to Covid-19 or when our community was targeted for hate crimes because of the color of our skin. We all have experienced despair; we all have known the pain of hopelessness that cuts to the core of our beings.
God heard Hagar’s prayer for mercy; God came and comforted her. Just as God heard Hagar’s painful prayer, God hears our cries for grace. Just as God remembered promises of blessings of long life and prosperity to all Abraham’s heirs, God remembers the promise of always being with us, never leaving us or forsaking us.
When our souls are dry, when our strength is sapped, when we are at the end of our ropes, or when we just need a little more hope, we can turn to God in confidence and cry for mercy. God is never far away, God always remembers God’s promises, and God is already ready to move heaven and earth for you and me. Amen.