The Great Escape
By Dr. Keith Wagner
In the book, Chicken Soup for the College Soul, there is an article entitled, “The Great Escape.” Wendy Marston tells about the time she moved away from her home in Colorado to attend Columbia University in New York City. Her story is like thousands of other young people who have moved away from home in order to get an education. And, like many others, Ms. Marston didn’t find the experience easy.
She didn’t seem to fit in with the insanity of New York City. Rowing crew seemed like a good idea but then the thought of getting up at 5:30 AM in the mornings didn’t appeal to her. She dated an actor for awhile, only to have him dump her for someone else. She even tried throwing herself into her schoolwork, but that didn’t seem to work either. Finally, she started waitressing at a local coffee shop and things began to turn around for her. There she met a new friend and the two of them worked on their schoolwork together. Inside the coffee shop there was a casual atmosphere and Wendy had the opportunity to interact with some of her college professors on a one-to-one basis. She made a close circle of friends and that led to the writing of stories.
It impressed me that Ms. Marston learned she could take risks and try new things until something worked. But what impressed me more was her personal discovery. She realized that her journey wasn’t about becoming some new person. Rather, it was simply figuring out that she could be comfortable with the person she really was.
Writing a sermon for me every week is a challenge. Sometimes it is difficult. But, past experience has taught me that eventually I will learn something new and in the process I am blessed. I must confess that in all my research from scholars and preachers no one gave me as much insight about the story of Abraham than Ms. Marston. She helped me realize that Abraham’s great escape was not just about leaving his parents. Although sometimes it is necessary for people to separate themselves from their parents it doesn’t have to happen with everyone in order for them to realize their full potential.
I believe the story of Abraham is about breaking dependency. By “going forth” as instructed by God, Abraham was able to break away from his dependency from his roots and put his trust totally in the hands of God. Now that his life is on a new adventure he has no choice but to trust in God and proceed with faith. Abraham also left some faulty perceptions of who he was, perhaps some bad habits and the notion that he belonged to God instead of the world.
There are times when all of us are afraid to step out in faith. We are accustomed to our safety net. We like to remain in our comfort zones where everything is predictable and known. Notice that when God tells Abraham to go forth, he is also promised he would be blessed. Had Abraham remained in his safety net he would have missed many blessings during his journey.
Last Tuesday morning I was doing my normal workout at the YMCA. Part of it was grueling. There are times when I hurt and I huff and puff. That particular morning I was thinking about this passage and how this relatively new weekly discipline had blessed me. First of all, I have been blessed with new friendships, people I would not have normally met had I not changed my routine and stayed at home in mornings, drinking coffee and reading the newspaper. I have also been blessed with improved health and more energy. Mostly, I just feel better about who I am.
It’s difficult to make changes in our lives, even when we know they are good for our health. Sometimes we don’t have the resources. On the other hand, too many folks just use the lack of resources, such as time and money, as an excuse. Perhaps it’s because we expect instant results. That certainly wasn’t the case with Abraham since there were years of hardship as he proceeded on his journey. But, there were moments where Abraham realized the goodness of God and therefore he built an altar as a tribute to God’s abundance.
Why don’t we leave our comfort zones and try new things? Is it because we lack faith? Do we not trust that God will bless us? Most people can’t leave their dependencies because they are stuck. They have the resources and they often have faith, but they have perceptions of reality that are no longer valid. They perceive that what worked in the past will continue to work in the future.
My father had his own business. He was fairly successful and sold his business in the early 1970’s. He started a new business in Florida. He struggled and the reason he struggled was that my father wasn’t keeping up with the competition. He was using sales techniques that worked in the past but not in the present. He also resisted the use of computers which would have enhanced his ability to be competitive in the marketplace.
I have to admit that computers are sometimes frustrating. Only recent I have had a real challenge in eliminating a virus from my computer in the church office. On the other hand, life with computers has given me many blessings. Desk top publishing has made writing a lot faster and reduced the number of errors. E-mail and the Internet has opened up a whole new world of resources. All that came about because I was open to a new way of writing and adapting it to my work in the church. Trying new experiences and making changes in our lives doesn’t come without difficulty. We can expect, however, that blessings will come, as God has promised.
Abraham wasn’t a middle-aged person like myself. Abraham was old. Yet, age was no barrier for him in stepping out. He listened to God’s challenge and went, trusting that God would be with him and believing he would be blessed. Consequently his wife, Sarah, who was also old and barren, became pregnant and eventually gave birth to a son. In the Hebrew culture that was the ultimate blessing from God. Had Abraham not listened to God and stayed where he was, he might not have become a father.
Age does not have to be a barrier when it comes to accepting change and new perceptions. I heard recently about a 98 year old man who graduated from college. He did it for no other reason except for following through on a personal goal. Now he is being blessed as the news of his academic achievement has become a national story.
Ms. Marston was blessed. She left home, tried some things she had never done before, and in the process made new friends. But more importantly, she became in touch with who she really was. She didn’t change, rather she simply accepted and became satisfied with the personality and body God gave her.
I’m different than my three brothers. They all live near my parents. But, I’m different in other ways. I like to shop, they don’t. I enjoy sailing, they enjoy fishing. I have had several careers while each of them has stayed with one. They all live in Florida, I don’t. But I visit the ocean more frequently than they do.
Perhaps there are some who do need to move to a new place. But there are others who need to move away from faulty perceptions that hold them back and prevent them from blessings. Sometimes old habits are hard to break. Perhaps the reason we continue them is because they help to maintain our comfort zones.
When Abraham left home his life took on a new level of meaning. He moved forward, being who God intended him to be. Instead of resisting what God wanted for him he listened. Could it be that we don’t move forward with our lives because we forget that we belong to God? We believe our agenda is more important than God’s. Instead of living up to our full potential and doing what God wants for our lives we do what we want. That direction is selfish and arrogant. And sadly, we will miss out on many blessings.
Why does God want us to go forth? Going forth, leaving our dependencies, taking risks and adapting to new ways of life requires us to trust in God and therefore having a real relationship with God. As we journey, we become acutely aware of God’s presence at every turn. We go too, knowing that God will bless us. What is more exciting than to know that God will surprise us in the future?
“Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing (to others).”
Copyright, 2002 Dr. Keith Wagner. Used by permission.