Have you heard the one about Hagar, when she cried out to the Lord and he took away all her trouble? No? Probably because that's not how the story goes...though that's how we want to view God and is often how we pray. And the lack of tangible answers can send our faith into a tailspin.
Tucked in the middle of Abraham and Sarah's journey to learn to trust God completely, we find the mixed-up story of Hagar. God had promised heirs to Abram (his original name), but 10 years went by, and the 85-year-old man remained childless. His wife, Sarai, had the bright idea to follow one of the customs of the day and gave her Egyptian maidservant Hagar to him, so they could have a child that way. (Hagar was likely acquired on one of their trips to Egypt, when Abram asked Sarai to pretend she was his sister so he wouldn't be killed on account of her beauty.)
Just as Adam accepted the fruit from Eve, Abram accepted Hagar and lay with her. Hagar became pregnant (I would guess much to Sarai's chagrin) and began to despise her mistress. It must have been pretty degrading, because Sarai complained to Abram, and he told her to do whatever she thought best. Unfortunately the wounds of barrenness and humiliation ran deep, and what she thought best was to mistreat her servant until she ran away.
Talk about a dysfunctional family! Was Hagar completely innocent? No--but she didn't deserve the treatment she received either. But here's where the story gets interesting. Hagar, pregnant, runs into the desert, and God finds her on the road to Egypt. She had likely made this trip before and would know how harrowing it was--no one but a fool would attempt it alone.
Perhaps it was that sense of foolishness and futility that made her evade the Angel of God's question, "Where are you going?" It was not unlike the question to Adam and Eve, "Where are you?" or the one to Cain, "Where is your brother?" God knows how to find us when we have desperately lost our way.
God's advice? Go back to your mistress. Now, she'd probably die if she kept going in the desert, but return to the trouble she had left? That would seem unthinkable. And it would have been except for two things:
One, God heard her. He had seen her misery. Why should a woman likely raised to believe in other gods care what God thought? Because he cared for her. Hagar is changed because she saw God, and she believed he saw all that she went through. She was not outside his sovereignty, his control. There is safety in the storm, in the Lord. Perhaps like Abram she was discovering that the Lord is our shield, our very great reward.
Hagar, the foreigner. The servant. The sinner. Yet she saw the God who sees us.
Two, the mixed blessing that God gave her. Life was not going to be easy--her son would be hated. But her descendants would become too numerous to count.
The Bible doesn't tell us exactly what happened when she went back, but apparently Hagar was safe. It seems that she became Abram's servant after that, because years later Sarah tells him what to do with her rather than taking matters into her own hands. The child? Ishmael: God hears.
Did Sarai ever wonder if God heard her pain as well?
Maybe God's path for you isn't easy. Maybe insults and injustice are there, or maybe you have been waiting decades to see a promise from God fulfilled or a heartache relieved. Maybe you wonder, where is God? He hears you too, your misery, anguish, confusion. The years and the journey may seem long, but he has not abandoned you. He hears. He sees. He cares. May you see the God who sees us.