Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights; with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change (James 1:17).
Throughout our sacred texts, we encounter people who have experienced unexpected transitions. Right from the beginning, in the book of Genesis we witness Adam and Eve expelled from the Garden of Eden. Their unplanned departure was a direct consequence of their misguided choices. But even though they were no longer in paradise, they were still in God’s presence and under God’s providence. While they were thrust into complete uncertainty and cast out, they were not cast down.
But when it comes to unexpected transitions, the main biblical figure who leaps to mind is Hagar. Sarah, who owned the enslaved Egyptian “handmaid,” was tired of waiting for God to bless her with a child. She took matters into her own hands and literally gave the woman to her husband, Abraham, with the expectation that Hagar would bear them a son. Soon Hagar gave birth to Abraham’s son, Ishmael.
But once Sarah gave birth to her biological son, Isaac, Abraham and Sarah acted less than honorably in their dealings with the firstborn son. In time, Sarah demanded that Abraham cast out Hagar and Ishmael.
Hagar is forced to wander aimlessly in the wilderness. She is without food, water, resources. Worst of all—she is without hope. She places her son in the limited protection of a shade bush and goes away, what the Scripture calls the distance of “a bow shot.” Finding herself at the complicated intersection of slave, concubine and mother, she collapses under the burning heat of oppression. Bursting into tears, Hagar cries out to God, “Please, don’t let me sit here and watch my only child die!”
Finding herself at the complicated intersection of slave, concubine and mother, Hagar collapses under the burning heat of oppression. Bursting into tears, she cries out to God, “Please, don’t let me sit here and watch my only child die!”
God enters into her tragic situation through a personal word. First, God tells Hagar not to be afraid and assures her that Ishmael’s cries have been heard in heaven. Then God gives Hagar a powerful promise: “Arise! Lift up the boy, and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make him into a great nation.” After receiving this great promise, God opened Hagar’s eyes and she sees a well of water in the wilderness. Along with God’s promise, God sends provision!
Recently I found myself in an unexpected transition. Struggling to find clarity and direction, I wasn’t sure what my next steps should or would be. I wasn’t sleeping well or taking care of myself properly. Depression was rolling in, and I was afraid. Perhaps you’ve been there too?
I remember being wide awake at 3:17 a.m. and none of my usual centering practices helped. I tried to pray but remained anxious and upset. I tried reciting my favorite “go-to” Bible verses, but the words were nearly hollow, almost empty. What was going on? Just then I remembered an old-timey hymn I had learned when I was a girl.
My sisters and I used to regularly attend church with the neighbor lady, Ms. Josephine Brown. And at the 37th Street Church of Christ in Omaha, Neb., I learned the enduring hymn “Hold to God’s Unchanging Hand.” I invite you to make space in your heart for the first verse:
Time is filled with swift transition. Naught of earth unmoved can stand. Build your hopes on things eternal. Hold to God’s unchanging hand!
We sang it so often I had it memorized. That night I softly sang myself to sleep.
A while ago I stumbled upon a devotional that referred to God as the “Unchangeable Changer.” In a world where the only constant is change, we can trust in this good news. Our God specializes in transformation, yet God remains unchangeable. So even when we are experiencing deep and abiding ambiguity, we can be encouraged that God is actively transforming us through the Spirit as we travel the liminal stages of life.
Unexpected transitions may be unavoidable. But so is God’s faithful presence in our lives. And for that, we give thanks!