“Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.” (Genesis 22:12)
There are things we cherish in this life. Good things. Our hearts knit to these things so that we cannot imagine life without them.
We can’t imagine life without our family, the children that wear us out or the spouse that continues to surprise us or the parents we once rebelled against. We can’t imagine life without meaningful work and the challenges and rewards that come with it. We can’t imagine life without the capacity to see the sky or walk on our own legs or swallow prime rib.
But sometimes we are asked to live without those things. We pay lip service to these things as “gifts’ or “blessings.” But when asked to give them up we feel angry and cheated, deprived of what was rightfully ours. We clutch at the gift and resent the giver.
Sometimes, however, wisdom asks us to let go.
The story is simple and yet almost impossible to understand. After much waiting and a few messes along the way, Abraham and Sarah had received the child promised to them. Sarah had laughed at the idea that such a thing would ever happen. But it did. The boy was born and named Isaac, meaning “laughter.” This boy was the long awaited fulfillment of a promise that had exceeded their capacity to believe.
And then we get a divine bait and switch. After all the waiting and messes, God appears ready to scrub the whole plan. God asks Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. Go up on a mountain, place the boy on an altar, raise the knife, and give back what you waited so long to receive. Here’s the reward for your patient faith: sacrifice your child.
We’re stunned and even angry about this. Amazingly Abraham goes. It has been noted that the only time Abraham speaks in this story is to present himself obediently to God. ”Here I am,” he says. That’s it. “Here I am.” He listens and obeys, walking up a hill with his son, his only son (a significant phrase in the story) planning all the while to do what we could never dream of doing.
Abraham’s story has the kind of ending we always hope for. The tragedy is averted. Abraham raises the blade above his son but his hand is stayed, Isaac is spared, and God provides a ram for the sacrifice. They all go home together happy and relieved. But there’s nothing in this story that says our willingness to let go means that we will eventually be allowed to keep what we so deeply cherish.
Too many parents have wept over the grave of a child. Too many competent and capable people have been told they no longer have a job. Too many strong and able-bodied people have been incapacitated. Sometimes we let go and we are left empty handed.
This is foolishness to us. Maybe that’s why Paul quotes Isaiah 40:13 in his discussion about God’s wisdom and how it runs counter to our wisdom. “Who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct him?”
Sometimes wisdom asks us to stand before God with open hands and say what Abraham said. “Here I am.” This means we hold every gift as just that, a gift: Our health, our work, our loved ones. All of it comes to us by grace. The world’s wisdom says that we have a right to these things. God’s wisdom asks us to offer them up – always careful never to worship the gift above the giver.
What are you being asked to let go of today?
We give you thanks, O God, for every gift you place in our life. Make us mindful today of what we cherish, and help us to cherish it rightly – ever thankful, humble before you, never allowing your gift to become a god that rivals your place in our heart. We would live every day with this simple prayer: “Here I am.” Amen.