By Laura Stephens-Reed
Go from your mama’s home cooking. Go from the community that taught you everything you know and nurtured your faith. Go from the comfy couch that has indentations in just the right places after years of use. Go from the kitchen table where you worked until the wee hours on your science fair projects. Go from the backyard where you tried on different identities and discovered so much about the world as you played with the neighbor kids. Go—far—from your long-held assumptions about how life would unfold. Go…into the great unknown.
This is God’s word for Abram in Genesis 12: Load everything essential onto the truck, then kiss everyone and everything else goodbye. I’ve got big plans for you.
The Bible doesn’t say that Abram bargains for more details, which is what I would be tempted to do. It just says that Abram goes. Since he doesn’t have turn-by-turn directions, Abram heads toward Canaan, where his dad originally planned to put down roots until he decided Haran was nice enough. And since he doesn’t see any stop signs, Abram keeps on trucking, eventually canvassing the whole area that his descendants would later inhabit. That’s a lot of wear and tear on someone who is seventy-five and counting.
Why does Abram agree to leave everything familiar for a life on the road, for sleeping on a pebbly mattress and keeping a constant eye out for border patrol? Maybe the job market has taken a dive. Maybe he’s honed in on the blessings God is promising: greatness, land, babies. Maybe he’s itching for a new adventure. Maybe he just trusts God that much. Regardless, Abram is taking a risk.
But God understands that this isn’t easy, because God is gambling too. This is, after all, divine-human covenant 3.0. Will Abram really be worth the effort? Can God’s almighty yet tender heart take another disappointment?
Going always means changing, and change is hard.
Even if that transition is good and we have a lot of the details, we’re doing something differently. Abram travels a rough road. His favorite nephew Lot has decided he’d also like to see the world beyond Haran’s borders. The hurt over leaving other family behind has just scabbed over when Lot and Abram make the painful choice to part ways so there will be enough food for all their animals. Abram also somehow gets himself involved in two international kerfuffles, falling back on some pretty handy diplomacy skills to save himself and others. And he twice passes his wife off as his sister so that the local leader will feel free to take up with her without bumping off Abram first. This is not some joy ride.
In the midst of all that’s new, it’s natural to look for shortcuts through the difficulty. But what if we thought about the discomfort as an opportunity to shift perspective, to take the long view?
In times of change, our overriding feeling is that we are losing everything. But what do we still, in truth, have? How do we bring closure to the relationships and rituals that really are ending? What do we gain with transition? Loss is an undeniably important part of the story, but it’s not the whole story.
And when it seems like we are stranded between two realities, we worry that we don’t have the resources to move ahead. So how can we think creatively about resources? How can we see beyond the immediately obvious (and possibly exhausted) assets at our disposal? If we are growing and becoming, that’s a sign we are being called. And if we are being called, we are also being equipped.
I can only imagine what God has to do to equip a ninety- and a one-hundred-year-old to care for a newborn. Because that is what happens. Not only does Sarah hoot about this turn of events, she names her son Isaac, which means “laughter.” Abraham has moved from a nomad with a handful of divine IOUs to a man who is seeing the beginning of promises fulfilled.
But Sarah’s change is even more dramatic. When she first follows her husband into the unknown, Sarai is a pitied woman who is not even explicitly included in God’s promises. And yet, on the other side change, Sarah is able to laugh at all the detours and mishaps that have gotten her to this point. She sees differently, which is a choice, as opposed simply to doing differently, which often isn’t.
When God first tells Abram to go, God names all the rewards that Abram will get. And at the end of that list, God says, “In you all the families of the earth will be blessed.” (Genesis 12:3b)
Abram was never intended to be the only beneficiary of the covenant. He’s just the first one. What if he had said, “Nah, I’d rather lay in my recliner and watch the Braves than go on some never-ending road trip”? What will happen—not just to us, but to others—if we refuse to roll with a change that God is prompting? Who around us will miss out on a blessing? What new life will never have a chance to be born, much less flourish? God forbid we find out. I hope we will be willing to sacrifice familiarity for growth and comfort for holy discomfort, for in our yeses to God’s commands to “go,” we are ever more conformed to the likeness of Christ’s being.
Laura Stephens-Reed is Peer Learning Group Regional Director for Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina. She also serves as a clergy coach and congregational consultant.