I’ve been thinking about the story of Abraham and Isaac this week. That’s probably an odd thing to think about, but if you knew me… well, you’d probably still think it was odd, but you wouldn’t be surprised.
It’s one of those stories that just makes you cock your head to one side. There’s a lot of stories like that in the Bible, the Old Testament especially, and I think we do ourselves, our faith, (and God, for that matter), a disservice by not admitting that give us pause. In fact, I think it betrays a lack of faith to say we can’t look at the Bible critically and still believe.
But, anyways, I was thinking about Abraham and Isaac, specifically the part where God asks Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. The idea that this is a test of his faith, of course, is a little obvious. The story itself is such a part of the zeitgeist, that we all pretty much know the story, including the ending.
But, like most stories, it’s the middle part that always gets me. There is a moment where Abraham had to accept that his son was going to die. There are a lot of different interpretations, of course. Some of which suggest that Abraham thought God would simply resurrect Isaac, and that the sacrifice was mostly for show. But whatever the interpretation, I think you have to admit that at some point, if not okay with killing him, Abraham was okay with Isaac being dead. He accepted it, at some level. And that’s the part I’ve never been able to put down. Because I’ve seen, more than once, how it applies to a lot of things in life.
It seems to be some kind of law of nature that, in every really worthwhile endeavor, we eventually have to come to a place where we must accept not having the thing we are aiming. I can say this from experience, but I’ve also seen it in a lot of my friends and creative colleagues. In fact, creative effort is one of the main places this manifests, but I’ve seen it just as much in relationships as any place else. I know why, of course, because in both we are dreaming and, thus, shaping our future. And the test of Isaac is really about the willingness to sacrifice our ideas about the future.
I’m on this journey. It might seem dramatic to call it that, but if you knew me, if you’ve been following along, you’d no it’s not surprising. I have a destination in mind, and wrapped up in that is a lot of hope and dreams and desires for the direction I want my life to take. I’m taking steps towards those, but even as I am I can’t shake the feeling that, whatever happens and whenever it happens, it won’t be the way I picture it, not exactly. That, by itself, is nothing new. I’ve experienced it before, but behind it I feel the specter of Isaac.
I know I’m going to be disappointed. I know there are going to be setbacks. There already have been. I have to make peace with that. If this really is a journey that I am on to become someone, then disappointment is going to be an integral part. I have to be okay with it not being how I expect, but I can’t help but feeling that I also have to be okay with not having it at all.
It’s hard to say that. Terrifying, really, because it feels like if you give voice to it that will make it happen. It is heartbreaking to mourn the death of your dreams, especially when they are really good ones.
And yet, as I think about it, I can’t help but realize that, either way, I will have to mourn something. Either the life I want or the life I have.
The reason I think this test shows up so much is because whenever we are pursuing something worthwhile, whether we intend it or not, that requires us leaving something behind. It’s natural. We can’t take hold of the next rung without also letting go of the one we’re on. We can’t step on the next steppingstone without stepping off the first.
Whatever the project or dream of relationship, we’re always going to be faced with a choice. Sometimes that will be an easy one, but just as often, if not more so, it’ll be hard. Because the hardest choices aren’t between bad and good, they are between good and better.
I’m still not sure how to fully wrap my mind around it, how to desire something with all my heart and yet accept that I might never have it, and yet I know, even I do get it, I will have to accept not having something else. And, even as I wrestle with that understanding, I know that the struggle is the point, somehow.
I don’t know why God chooses to test us in this way. Why it feels like in order to truly enjoy something we have to be ready for it to leave us alone. Then again, I don’t always understand why God chooses to test us at all. But I imagine the answer has a lot more to do with us than God.
Maybe it’s not so much about making sure God knows how resolved we are but making sure we do.
Thankfully, though, we know how the story ends for Isaac. And, even as I ponder the things I might have to leave behind, I’m reminded that we carry a lot with us, that nothing truly good is ever lost, and the things we leave behind have a way of finding their way back to us.