And he said, “Hagar, servant of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going?”
“I’m running away from my mistress Sarai,” she answered.
Then the angel of the LORD told her, “Go back to your mistress and submit to her.” The angel added, “I will so increase your descendants that they will be too numerous to count.”… Genesis 16:8ff
My “mistress” this week is the past. I am going to California at the end of the week to help celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Riverside Brethren/Madison Street Church. The Sierra St. Household planted it, and I was the pastor. It is not that I don’t want to go, don’t want to see people, or don’t think it will be a lot of fun. It’s just that I am sort of a “right now” person and I am faced with the need to look into the past. Like Hagar, I am getting asked “Where have you come from?”
Today, it is like that question has finally caught up with me, and I don’t have a much better answer than Hagar: “Well, I guess I am running away.” Hagar actually had a pretty good reason to take off. My reasons for moving on were more developmental than because someone was abusing me. I felt a call to move into what I needed to do next. I’m generally better with the question, “And where are you going?”
But pondering the past has merit, if for no other reason than because the Lord has used it as a field in which to plant the present. Generally, my memories of my 20’s and 30’s in Riverside come mostly in golden tones. I learned a lot and did a lot with people who loved me and loved God. That’s enough. But taking a good look again, as I am doing today as I prepare to go, also digs up the seeds that never spouted, causes me to run into the stumps that weren’t removed and threatens me with a couple of leftover land mines, too.
Right now, I am hearing God’s command and promise to Hagar as something relevant for me, too.
“Go back to your mistress and submit to her.” The past doesn’t own me, but running away from it gives whatever might be harmful in it even more power. It will do me good to submit to it. Even the parts I might like to get away from, I can fearlessly look at with Jesus by my side. How about you?
I think the promise is true for me, too: “I will so increase your descendants that they will be too numerous to count.” I don’t think that means literal grandchildren for me – I have enough to keep up with, as it is! But I do think it means I have some fruitfulness that will come from being submissive to my past, in the sense that I need to listen to what it teaches me, and celebrate what God has grown from it. Is the angel moving you that way too?