Monday, February 01, 2010

FAITHFUL PAIN

Okay, I know this may be a little unsettling for some, but my husband and I accompanied our daughters when they got matching tattoos. Now, before you roll your eyes or snarl your lip at our lackadaisical parenting, let me say that our girls are young women, ages twenty-four and twenty-two. They were determined to get the tattoos whether we attended the event or not. Truth be told, I was a little more enthusiastic about it than my hubby, but we both realized the importance of our presence at the monumental occasion. Why monumental, you ask? Because these tattoos weren't just a whim or sudden burst of childish rebellion. They were a deeply contemplated decision of life-long sisterly commitment. Trina and Emily chose to have a phrase from an E.E. Cummings poem, “I Carry Your Heart,” tattooed on the left ribcage, just below their hearts. If you've ever had a tattoo, you know that choosing a body placement where bone is close to the skin – and little “meat” between them – is the most painful. They, too, knew this, but they also felt compelled by the sentiment and their dedication to each other as sisters. Sometimes FAITHFULNESS simply outweighs the immediate pain. And as Roy and I held our daughters' hands through the process, we watched them live out the truth that faithful pain creates lovely memories…and the tattoos turned out kind of cool, too.

Gen. 23:1-4 – “Sarah lived to be a hundred and twenty-seven years old. She died at Kiriath Arba (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan, and Abraham went to mourn for Sarah and to weep over her. Then Abraham rose from beside his dead wife and spoke to the Hittites. He said, 'I am an alien and a stranger among you. Sell me some property for a burial site here so I can bury my dead.'” (emphasis added)
  • Scripture doesn't say why Sarah was in Hebron and Abraham had to GO THERE to mourn for her. Was she on a journey and died on the way? Or did they live separately – Sarah in Hebron, Abraham in Beersheba (Gen. 22:19)? If they lived separately, why? And how long had it been since Abraham had seen her? Many questions remain unanswered in Scripture, but we do know this. Abraham was FAITHFUL – even in his pain – to pursue ownership of God's promised land. He searched for that glimmer of hope in his darkness. Perhaps it was even the shove of grief that moved him to ask for the first possession of God's promise.
Gen. 23:5-9 – “The Hittites replied to Abraham, 'Sir, listen to us. You are a mighty prince among us. Bury your dead in the choicest of our tombs. None of us will refuse you his tomb for burying your dead.' Then Abraham rose and bowed down before the people of the land, the Hittites. He said to them, 'If you are willing to let me bury my dead, then listen to me and intercede with Ephron son of Zohar on my behalf so he will sell me the cave of Machpelah, which belongs to him and is at the end of his field. Ask him to sell it to me for the full price as a burial site among you.'”
  • The Hittites first answer seemed generous but was in fact a honeyed refusal of Abraham's appeal to purchase land in Canaan. Abraham could have acquiesced and – in his pain – submitted to the seemingly kind offer and remained a squatter in Canaan, not an owner of God's promises. Instead, he pressed for more – did the uncomfortable business now – though it took more emotional energy. In doing so, he no doubt avoided future squabbles for his family burials, and he secured God's ultimate blessing and best.
Gen. 23:10-16 – “Ephron the Hittite was sitting among his people and he replied to Abraham in the hearing of all the Hittites who had come to the gate of his city. 'No, my lord,' he said. 'Listen to me; I give you the field, and I give you the cave that is in it. I give it to you in the presence of my people. Bury your dead.' Again Abraham bowed down before the people of the land and he said to Ephron in their hearing, 'Listen to me, if you will. I will pay the price of the field. Accept it from me so I can bury my dead there.' Ephron answered Abraham, 'Listen to me, my lord; the land is worth four hundred shekels of silver, but what is that between me and you? Bury your dead.' Abraham agreed to Ephron's terms and weighed out for him the price he had named in the hearing of the Hittites: four hundred shekels of silver, according to the weight current among the merchants.”
  • Look at the progression. Abraham asked Hittite elders for “some” land to bury Sarah. When he asked to buy a specific cave on a man's property, that man “happened” to be in the crowd, and Abraham suddenly found himself purchasing the entire field. It was a struggle, yes. At a time of mourning, when he should have been able to simply concentrate on grieving. But life seldom allows us to compartmentalize, and we're often required to be faithful even in our pain…like Abraham.
Gen. 23:17-20 – “So Ephron's field in Machpelah near Mamre--both the field and the cave in it, and all the trees within the borders of the field--was deeded to Abraham as his property in the presence of all the Hittites who had come to the gate of the city. Afterward Abraham buried his wife Sarah in the cave in the field of Machpelah near Mamre (which is at Hebron) in the land of Canaan. So the field and the cave in it were deeded to Abraham by the Hittites as a burial site.”
  • God promised that Abraham and his descendants would possess the land of Canaan. The fulfillment of that promise began with Sarah's burial site – and Abraham's grief. Sometimes the initiation of God's greatest blessings begins with our deepest pain. Remaining faithful through the pain reaps not only the fulfillment of God's promise, but also His pleasure in the process.
Lord, I can't live in a sin-sick world without being stung by pain. I'm so grateful that I can turn to You for comfort and guidance in the midst of it. However, at the end of the day, I must make the choice to remain faithful. Faithful to ask for Your help, when I have no strength left. Faithful to ask for Your wisdom, when I have no answers. Faithful to be silent in Your arms, when I can only weep. I adore You, my Beloved, my Yahweh, my God.