Leave the Old For the New
Sometimes it's hard to leave what we know for something totally new and different. It's risky and sometimes terrifying. Every transition -- graduating from school, taking a new job, moving to a different city or country, etc. -- requires that we leave something behind. Letting go is absolutely essential to our progress.
What can help us overcome the fear of letting go of the old so that we can joyously embrace the new? Faith. Courage. Conviction. Trust … which the story of Abraham reveals.
When Abram is 75 years old, God speaks to him: "'Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father's family, and go to the land that I will show you….' So Abram departed as the LORD had instructed" (Gen 12:1, 4 NLT).
Abram's response to God is amazing. He packs up everything and leaves, not knowing exactly where he's going, but trusting God to lead him. This in itself is gutsy. But what makes Abram's act of faith even more incredible is that this is his first introduction to God. He has grown up with his family worshipping other gods and idols.
Abram must have felt he was doing the right thing to leave his extended family, his home, his land, his entire way of living -- everything except his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, and their own servants. He must have believed he could trust God. Abram was even willing to let go of his old gods to embrace a completely new concept of God, which evolved for Abram over time.
It takes a lot of courage to act on such conviction and make a radical change in life. God's call must have touched Abram in a way he'd never been touched. Abram must have known in his heart that this was God, the true God, and that God would keep His promises. He must have felt that the promise of the blessing was worth all the sacrifices.
Let's look at what God promised:
"I will make of you a great nation,
And I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
And you shall be a blessing….
And all the families of earth
Shall bless themselves by you." (Gen 12:2, 3 JPS Torah Commentary)
These are pretty impressive promises. At this point, though, God doesn't give Abram any specific details regarding how he'll become famous or bless others. God just expects him to trust. Abram's tremendous faith makes him okay with all of this.
God's promise is universal: "all the families of earth" will be blessed. God's blessing includes us. So, we might ask ourselves how we would respond to God's call. Would we be okay leaving almost everything behind and starting a new life without having all the information we would consider essential? Or would we like to know exactly how and when God is going to work things out for us? If we don't know all the details or timing, we're often tempted to worry, stress, or even try to finagle things to work out the way we think they should.
Abram's story shows us that forcing our own way doesn't bring the best results. God gives us everything we need to know each moment. If we don't know something we wish we knew, we must not need to know it yet. We just need to trust, and that often takes courage.
For the most part, Abram successfully trusts God, and good happens. When he graciously lets his nephew choose where he wants to live, God gives Abram all his eyes could see (Gen 13:14-17). When Abram acts out of love, he is able to rescue Lot from an enemy invasion and receive a blessing from the priest of the Most High God (Gen 14).
There are times, though, when Abram doesn't trust God completely. Occasionally, he acts out of fear and makes mistakes. One of the most obvious missteps is when he resorts to human reasoning and agrees to his wife's plan to use her slave Hagar as a surrogate (Gen 16) to produce one of those many offspring God had promised him (Gen 15:5). Whether it was impatience, doubt, or fear, his actions caused eventual strife, suffering, and separation. But God never gives up on Abram. He still loves him. God finds a way to bless everyone involved, including Hagar and her child, Ishmael (Gen 16).
This is a wonderful promise for us. God never gives up on us. Even if we make mistakes, God still loves us and wants to bless us. God keeps working with us, keeps talking to us in a way we can understand, helping us as we gain a greater understanding of who God is and who we are.
It might feel incredibly risky to let go of old feelings or things, turn our backs on the familiar way of doing things, or leave our past behind for something new. But the consequence of not following God's call to move forward is even more risky. As the angels guide Lot and his family out of the cataclysmic destruction of Sodom, they are adamant in their instructions: "Don't look back" (Gen 19:17). Lot's wife looks back and is destroyed (19:26).
But we're not going to let old habits or material possessions paralyze us. Rather than focusing on what we're leaving behind, we can focus on where we're headed. Following where God leads makes all the difference. If we can be like Abram -- willing to answer God's call, to leave the old and rejoice in the new -- then we are open to a life full of blessings.