by Meridith Owensby, Lydia’s House co-director
I’ve been thinking a lot about parents this week, perhaps because Tiana became a mom on Thursday. On that day she knew great joy, the joy of having your child come into the world, and all the love that comes with that. Today Tiana has known the fear that only parenthood can provide, as she took little baby M to Children’s Hospital because she was having intestinal issues. In one week’s time she has known the greatest love and the greatest fear we can hold for another person on this earth.
In today’s reading from Genesis, we come upon the story of Hagar and her son Ismael. They are in the wilderness, sent there by a slave master with only one skin of water. Hagar knows that death by dehydration is close by after their water runs out. She doesn’t want to see her son perish, so she puts the weak little boy under the shade of a bush and walks about 50 yards away. She sits down and sobs, her heart breaking. The most terrible thing she can imagine is happening, and she can do nothing to stop it.
I can imagine in this moment Hagar was asking where God was. You see, Hagar and God had met in the wilderness before, during another time of despair when she was pregnant with Ismael. She was a slave who had become pregnant by her master Abraham. Her mistress Sarah, Abraham’s wife, despised her and treated her badly, so Hagar fled into the wilderness to escape.
While in the wilderness an angel came to Hagar and told her to go back, that the child she was carrying would be the father of many nations. God told Hagar to name the baby Ismael (wouldn’t that be a great way to get a baby name?). Hagar gave God a name as well: El Roi, the God who sees. Hagar is the only person in the Bible who gives God a name like this, by the way.
So now Hagar, this same woman who named God, who called her child the name God gave, is certain Ismael is going to die. And then what happens?
God calls Hagar again. This time God says the voice of the boy was heard all the way in heaven. Not only is God a God who sees, God is also a God who hears. God opens Hagar’s eyes to see a well before her, where she and the boy can drink and recover.
I thought of Hagar this week when I read an article by a writer named Taylor Harris. Taylor is a Black mother of three children and a pastor’s wife who lives in Charlottesville, North Carolina. She published a piece this week about the fears she holds for her children, and this is what she wrote about her eight year old son:
One day, out of nowhere, my son calls for me.
“Mommy, I just want to tell you that I promise I will be alive in 2026.”
He doesn’t even drive yet. He just learned to ride a bike, zig-zagging down our street, trying to avoid cars on either side. I watch him down the sloping concrete, praying no one roars around the corner too fast or makes a wide turn.
Lord, let it be so. Let him live.
Today, on a Sunday we set aside to honor fathers, we honor the immense love that parenthood brings into our lives. We give thanks that God is a God who sees and hears, a God who is near to us in our moments of great joy and fear. We give thanks that our God is a parent, one with a son, Jesus, who lived and died as one of us. We give thanks that we are all God’s children, and that God watches our lives as closely as Hagar watched Ismael’s.
As we come to a time of prayer this evening, let us remember that God is with us as we share our joys and sorrows. Let us remember that God is near to the parents who fear for the welfare of their children. Our God sees and hears. Our God listens to our prayers. Thanks be to God.