When the water in the skin was gone, she put the boy under one of the bushes. Then she went off and sat down about a bowshot away, for she thought, “I cannot watch the boy die.” And as she sat there, she began to sob. The child grew and was weaned, and on the day Isaac was weaned Abraham held a great feast. But Sarah saw that the son whom Hagar the Egyptian had borne to Abraham was mocking, and she said to Abraham, “Get rid of that slave woman and her son, for that woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac.” The matter distressed Abraham greatly because it concerned his son. But God said to him, “Do not be so distressed about the boy and your slave woman. Listen to whatever Sarah tells you, because it is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned. I will make the son of the slave into a nation also, because he is your offspring.” Early the next morning Abraham took some food and a skin of water and gave them to Hagar. He set them on her shoulders and then sent her off with the boy. She went on her way and wandered in the Desert of Beersheba. (Genesis 21:8-16)
This story is charged with emotion. Sarah finally gives birth to a miracle child and suddenly becomes jealous that Isaac is being overshadowed by Ishmael. Abraham is deeply saddened by the idea of sending his firstborn son away from him. Finally, Haggar is twice abused, once given to Abraham as a surrogate, only to be sent away with only a bit of water. Her cry finally expresses her despair, “I cannot watch the boy die.”
The scriptures do not deny or diminish emotions. Instead, the feelings of the characters are expressed fully. This alone is comforting. Emotions are real, and God seems very comfortable interacting with the humanity of feelings. Imagine if the scriptures only told stories about emotionally happy perfect people. How could anyone identify with that?
The question for us is, why do we often struggle to deal with our emotions if God doesn’t? Why do we hide, deny, suppress, and avoid the painful feelings of our lives? The operative word in that question is “painful.” It is often difficult to engage our own emotions well because they hurt. Here is the thing, the scriptural authors revealed the characters’ emotions for a reason. When we see a person’s honest emotions, we can begin to identify, learn from, and grow from their example. It’s easier to know how to interpret a life when you have the complete picture of the emotions involved. Don’t you want that same advantage in your life?
Emotions offer us essential information to interpret and live our own stories. If our primary aim is to avoid painful emotions, we inadvertently muddy the waters of decision-making. Today, ask God, “how do I really feel?” Ask him to help you discover, acknowledge, and learn from your own painful emotions. Your story might make more sense if you do.