Hagar, an Egyptian servant, concubine to Abraham, and mother of a people who would be aggressors to God’s chosen race, was given the honor of naming her child after one of our Creator’s significant attributes: Ishmael (meaning “God hears”). She was outside of the plan for God’s people, brought in by Sarah’s doubt, and made a part of the ensuing consequences. Yet all the same, God heard her. While she walked in the wilderness, God provided.
I was in that boat a few years ago myself. Maybe not lost and starving in the desert, but wandering in my own way. I lived under the assumption my Maker was apathetic and disapproving. Not quite “Tyrant of the Cosmos” level, but I still believed He didn’t want to hear my words or struggles. He wanted me to shape up and show my worth as a follower. THEN maybe we could talk.
You can imagine the strain this placed, not only on my faith, but on the way I lived daily. I was certain I’d failed just about everything God had expected me to do. He loved all these others around me, sure, but not me; not with my paltry offerings and stagnancy.
I sunk into a period of glum anxiety. I would go to church and read my Bible, but my takeaway from any spiritual input began to run with the same theme: God didn’t care. I was somehow on the outside of His love.
At the time, I hadn’t recently read the story of Hagar, but now I notice some parallels. She, too, could have been overlooked on the outskirts of a promise meant to be fulfilled through someone else. She was part of a broken scheme. But rather than ignore her, God provided her a promise of her own. She wasn’t even a woman in the line of God’s plan for salvation, yet He heard her.
My own lost soul had to learn this lesson, but for God to listen I had to speak. I’d spent so long shutting down and projecting my own apathy, I didn’t know how to begin. But eventually, this is what I did:
I thought of my brother. I thought of our phone calls, in-person talks, and the absolute safety I feel sharing with him. I can say any stupid, serious, or fangirl-y thing to him, and he listens without accusation. He’s put up with ludicrous amounts of gushing from me over games he hasn’t even played. I thought, if I spoke to God like I speak to my brother, how would that change my perceptions? What would that reveal about God’s character and what He wants to build in me as His child and creation?
So I didn’t hold back. In my prayers and meditation, I would tell God whatever was on my mind. I didn’t hide, and I didn’t agonize over the supplications I thought might be stupid. I acknowledged everything before him. I believed the God who gave me a loving brother must be loving in Himself and possess those qualities of patience and kindness (I’d somehow got it in my mind God wouldn’t demonstrate his own Fruits, go figure).
As it turns out, when you believe in a God who hears, you discover a God who also answers. Like Hagar who was given counsel and provision, I received what I needed. And you know what? God’s still listening. I guess you can call me Ishmael.