Lessons from Abraham and Sarah on facing the unknown
A Reflection for Monday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time
By Jill Rice
Find today’s readings here.
Abram took his wife, Sarai, his brother’s son Lot,
all the possessions that they had accumulated,
and the persons they had acquired in Haran,
and they set out for the land of Canaan. (Gn 12:5)
This week, I’m moving out of New York City. It’s not my first time moving, but it is the first time I’m leaving a place with no plan to return to living there. I’ll come visit all the friends I have made, but I don’t envision myself living here full-time ever again. In two months, I will move to Germany, over four thousand miles from home, for a two-year degree program. My complex emotions—fear of the unknown future, relief that I can go home and see mountains, grief over not living close to my friends—are not unique to me.
In today’s first reading, Abraham (or Abram, as he’s still called at this point) is told to leave his homeland and go to a place that God has prepared. We all know the story of how Abraham is sent to Canaan, where he will eventually have descendants as numerous as the stars. But in order to have those descendants, in order to receive the new name (which signifies his changed identity as the father of nations), he needed to do the scary thing and leave behind what he knew.
My complex emotions—fear of the unknown future, relief that I can go home and see mountains, grief over not living close to my friends—are not unique to me.
In the Bible, we don’t get to hear the inner thoughts of most, if not all, characters. We don’t know the extent of Abram’s doubts, or how Sarah would have questioned her husband’s judgment, or what the other people who went with them thought of this plan. But you and I, all of us who have set out from one place into the unknown, can picture just how many questions they would have. And their questions wouldn’t just be “Will I make friends? Will I have a fruitful experience?” but more like “Will we survive the desert droughts and famines? Will we even make it to the other side?”
Yet God was with them as they journeyed, and we know that the Israelites who traveled with Abraham made it to where they needed to be. Sure, there were mishaps along the way, as there always are—especially without Google Maps—but their story was passed down to us somehow. The promise God made to Abraham, which we now see as one of the covenants God made with his people, was fulfilled, even though Abraham did not live to meet every one of his countless descendants.
The big, scary move across the desert (or across the ocean) is not the end of the world. Doubts are warranted, but we know that it will all work out in the end when we trust in God. The journey will not follow a straight path—Abraham had to move to Egypt soon after arriving in what would be the Promised Land of Canaan—but God is there, every step of the way.