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The Child is Not the Problem

Updated: Aug 13, 2021

Edited by T Lai

Now Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, mocking Isaac. 10 Therefore she said to Abraham, “Drive out this slave woman and her son, for the son of this slave woman shall not be an heir with my son Isaac!” Gen. 21:9

It takes a community to raise a child. In our community the trauma of racism is real. Poverty is debilitating, and injustice is powerfully present. But, as with Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar, our pain cannot excuse our actions or lack thereof. Children cannot be abandoned to fend for themselves. We wring our hands. Meanwhile, children are killing children, and mothers and fathers are attending funerals. We ask the police to arrest them. We count on the schools to control them. The culture of silence about criminal activity or excusing the actions of people who hurt people cannot be tolerated.

The matter distressed Abraham greatly because of his son Ishmael. Gen. 21:11

The crisis in Genesis 21 was not just about Hagar, Ishmael’s mother. It was also about Abraham, Ishmael’s father, and Sarah who had come to define this child as a problem. Hagar, Abraham, and Sarah were together responsible for protecting the life, mind, and spirit of Ishmael.

On social media, kids are acting out, creating violent scenarios fueled by virtual reality and pop culture. Their intent is to raise likes and to go viral, but they are also feeding a virus of retribution and one-upmanship. In using drugs and alcohol, they are self-medicating. Not all kids do this, but enough do such that among adults it has created and fostered a narrative about kids and an expectation of bad outcomes about kids. To be clear these are kids, as Isaac and Ismael were. Their brains are not fully developed and coping mechanisms are not fully formed. So, they either act out or turn their pain and anxiety inward. This is the recipe for both police violence and intra-youth crime.

And she departed and wandered about in the wilderness of Beersheba.15 When the water in the skin was used up, she left the boy under one of the bushes. 16 Then she went and sat down opposite him, about a bowshot away, for she said, “May I not see the boy die!” And she sat opposite him and raised her voice and wept. Gen. 21:14-16

Hagar thought she and Ishmael were going to die. God then yelled at her, “Go, get that boy!” God had not forgotten him. The community around the child had failed him. In fact, their belief that one child was more deserving than the other had become a danger to both children. Their parents mingled their prejudice with their faith. Their faith was used to justify their adult dysfunction. Sarah and Hagar’s dispute and Abraham’s emotional cowardice were toxic to everyone in the household.

They had enshrined their hurts in their image of God. The promise of their faith had become the justification to act out their family’s dysfunction. When God spoke, God was telling them to save the children and rebuking their assumptions about the world and how it worked. The God-given destiny within Ishmael was not diminished but the adults’ trauma and drama could and would literally lay both Ishmael and Isaac at death’s door.

Politics, betrayal, and injustice cannot relieve us of our responsibility to, “Go get that boy”. We may not be social media savvy but we buy our kid's phones and then do not pay attention to how they are used. We remain silent about the guns in our community; guns that change fistfights into life or death struggles. We build programs around the kids, but we can also build touchstones of truth around them. Truth to stop criminal activity, to report guns in the community, and to monitor our kids’ lives on and off the internet.

We love our kids. Our love is not in question. Hagar loved her child. But, she was so absorbed in her pain that she had lost focus on the difficult work of raising her child.

What is the matter with you, Hagar? Do not fear, for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is. 18 Get up, lift up the boy, and hold him by the hand, for I will make a great nation of him. Gen. 21:17-18

God saw the promise and possibility in Ishmael, in his mother, and in the community that could be built. Hagar’s children are of all colors. Go get those children!

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