I’m kissing Ishmael goodbye.
You know Ishmael. You probably have one yourself.
Ishmael is my attempt to get what I want on my schedule because I’m not willing to wait for God to act. Practically speaking, Ishmael is a manifestation of my own self-will, impatience and unbelief. Ishmael is me saying, “Okay, God. Since you won’t, I will.”
Historically, of course, Ishmael is Abraham and Sarah’s solution to a problem created by God. The Book of Genesis introduces this childless couple, past the age of childbearing, with no heir in a culture where male offspring meant something. God, of His own volition, promised Abraham a son. Independent of anything Abraham would do, God said here is what I will do.
But God did not say when. And waiting is always the hardest part.
As years passed, in the minds of Abraham and Sarah, time was running out. They began to write their own script.
Scene 1: Sarah gives Abe her handmaid Hagar; who gets pregnant and gets an attitude. Sarah gets offended, takes her hurt out on Hagar, who runs away. Fast forward, Hagar returns, gives birth to Ishmael. Abraham has a son! And so begins the resulting family drama.
Scene 2: Eventually, Sarah does become pregnant and gives birth to Isaac. Now Abraham, age 100, has two sons. Ishmael: the son of Abraham and Sarah’s presumption. Isaac: the son of God promised. Abraham is on cloud nine, but not for long. Their improvised solution now presents an unavoidable problem. Ishmael and Isaac cannot coexist, no matter what the bumper sticker says.
Abraham’s story is my story, our story.
In our early years, life stretches before us, a blank canvas. As years pass, we don’t always like the scene we’ve painted; our hopes and dreams aren’t realized. We wrote The Great American novel, twice, and no one will publish it. We married Prince Charming and are now living with Homer Simpson. We got an MBA and still got passed over for promotion. The prodigal we’ve prayed for is at home in the Far Country with no plans to move.
Ishmaels are conceived at this intersection of disappointment and disillusionment:
- a cross country move for a “dream job” that uproots the family and almost destroys a marriage
- an ill-timed and under-financed business venture;
- divorce and/or marriage to a trophy spouse or newly discovered “soul mate”
- etc., etc., etc.
Ever birthed any Ishmaels? I have. Unwilling to wait, I’ve struck out on my own. When God finally did what He said He would do – as He always does – I couldn’t enjoy His blessing the way I might have if I’d waited. Ishmael complicates things. Ishmael, as Abraham’s history reveals, is a complication for my children and their children for generations to come. That’s why he has to go.
It’s not easy to send him packing. Ishmael is my baby, a part of me. Abraham invested 14 years in Ishmael, pouring himself into that relationship, before Isaac came along. But that didn’t change God’s perspective. Ishmael was Abraham’s idea, not God’s. And God will not abandon His plan to sanctify the result of my carnality. He won’t kill Ishmael either. I have to deal with the monster I created.
God gives us the choice. Ishmael or Isaac? Your plan or mine; what’s it going to be?
I’m kissing Ishmael goodbye.
When the tears dry and the dust settles, I expect to find what Joshua found after the battles beyond the Jordan. God will have kept His promise, in His time.
“Not a word failed of any good thing which the LORD had spoken to the house of Israel. All came to pass.” Joshua 21:45