By Denise Trull
Quiet, thoughtful Abraham, who dwelt in the land of Ur among his father’s people, who found great solace and peace in the familiar surroundings of his homeland -- heard a voice one day. It was a voice that had not been heard in a very long time. Not since the time of Noah. It was God’s voice and He was asking Abraham to set out for a distant place he had never been. And Abraham simply said yes. There was no precedent for this voice. No one else around Abraham had heard it before. He had no assurances brought about by long lived religious traditions, no Bible stories, no stories passed down to him by his elders. He was to be the first of elders. And yet he trusted the voice. He got up and went. Just like that. I can’t help but think that voice was splendid and large and kind and commanding -- like the voice Adam and Eve might have heard in the cool of the evening beckoning them to come for a walk. How else would Abraham have the courage to go? But go he did.
He brought some of his family with him. He brought a nephew, his old father, his herds and his dear wife Sarah. He traveled in a great arc, up through Haran where his old father died and was buried by him, and then down, down down to the south walking and walking until suddenly God told him to stop. There he took him to a high place under a blanket of stars and told him he was to be the father of many people. His descendants were to be as numerous as the stars in the sky. Abraham must have felt overwhelmed by this news. Why was he chosen for such a thing? But he listened and he said yes.
Time went on and Abraham settled on the land God had given him. He watched and waited for the promised descendants to materialize. Sarah did as well. But no children came. Not one, single descendant looked up in a baby’s face. Abraham wondered but he didn’t lose faith, or patience. Sarah tried to take matters into her own hands with Hagar and Ishmael and made a huge mess of things trying to force God’s timeline to her own. But for all her straining efforts, she still felt no promised child stirring in her own aging womb. Perhaps she gave up hoping.
Some visitors came at last -- out of the desert. Strangers. Abraham fed and sheltered them with his usual kindness. They ended by telling him the good news at last. A son was to be born. Perhaps Abraham cried with joy, his long waiting released in happy tears. We are told Sarah laughed in incredulity. Perhaps she had no room left for the pain of false hope. But baby Isaac was born. The long awaited first star of thousands to come. He was a shining, happy sun warming the old age of his parents. Happiness, fulfillment, Sarah’s reason for living. Abraham’s boy. The sole reason why Abraham had left his people and his father’s house. To become the father of many nations hidden in this first born son. Isaac bore the hope of a future nation on his very tiny shoulders.
Then something completely shattering happened. God told Abraham to take his son up to a hill and kill him. To bind and sacrifice him on an altar. To take the reason for his being and to slay it with his own hands. Long patience had given Abraham a heart that trusted, a heart that knew none of this was his own -- he was a servant and not the master of his fate. Even now he trusted that voice. It must have been such a voice! He lifted the knife and, wonder of wonders, an angel held it fast with the words, “Do not lay your hands on the boy. Do not do the least thing to him. For now I know that you fear God, since you did not withhold from me your son, your only one.” My only thought is that Abraham probably sank to the ground and wept, clutching Isaac to himself when the angel stayed his hand. And I hope that Isaac was looking the other way when the knife was raised and never even suspected his fate wondering at this trembling embrace of his father. Only later did Abraham perhaps explain it to him. And then Isaac understood.
This brings up an important question we can ask ourselves. What is our Isaac? That one thing that we would be crushed to part with? Do WE trust the Father enough to offer our Isaac to Him when He asks? There are many Isaacs -- as many as there are people in the world. The woman who has waited years to conceive a child and suffers a miscarriage. The older gentleman who has to surrender his independence with his car keys and finally admit to his son that he can no longer drive safely. The sudden job change and the loss of a beloved home that contains so many memories you fear will be lost. Reputation. Being praised as a model Christian family and then accepting a teen’s pregnancy with love and understanding and full disclosure -- perhaps to wagging tongues in the neighborhood. That vocation to the priesthood or the religious life you have been so sure of and then find, to your absolute shock, that you are not accepted. Perhaps you are someone wanting so much to get married and having to wait and worry that there is no one for you out there. Dreams. Plans. All of them are Isaacs that God asks us to surrender.
But just as God stayed Abraham’s hand, we might find he does it for us in a different way. That devastating miscarriage might have been the catalyst for an adoption down the road -- an offering of your love and generosity to a little baby in great need of a home. And suddenly that baby brings more joy than you could ever express. Once the car keys are surrendered and you perhaps feel so much older and helpless now, you slowly discover that the conversations you are having with your son in the car when he drives you around to your appointments are filled with laughs and some real sharing of thoughts that might not have been shared if you had kept your car keys and insisted on independence. Perhaps that new little life that enters your home by surprise will be the joy of your old age and bring you untold blessings. Perhaps that home you surrendered has given way to a simpler, more humble life that causes less worry and care to maintain making you free and light of spirit and realizing it is the relationships that matter and not the ‘stuff.’ Surrendering your dream to become a priest might wake you up to the real joy of being a husband and father -- something that you never thought you wanted, but God did. Staying busy and active when you see all your friends getting married and having children -- this is a great Isaac. But God has His reasons and they are for your great good. Growing in trust is a grace -- the reward of surrender. And one day, when you least expect it, you will find that someone whom God has sent to you because now you are ready.
Abraham is our guide in the surrenders we must give to God throughout our lives. These Isaacs God asks of us.
Holy Abraham, pray for us today. When we surrender, even just a little, there is joy. Father Isaac of Stella, a holy Cistercian priest expresses this joy so beautifully, so I will give him the last word:
"Scripture says, the son of Abraham grew and became very great. Isaac means laughter. And so, my brother, let the Son of God grow in thee, and from thee, for He is formed in thee. Let Him become immense in thee, and may He become to thee a great smile and exultation and perfect joy, which no man can take from thee."