It was hard to write the last blog. So many faces and stories kept getting between me and the monitor. I know that my putting your stories in a frame, putting words in a numbered sequence to your life, is bound to be traumatic.
Some will weep eloquently in the comments. Most will silently curl up in a ball, at least inside, and wish they had never been. I hurt the most for those who will hurt in silence.
It took me back to the old song made famous by Roberta Flack.
“Strumming my pain with his fingers
Singing my life with his words
Killing me softly with his song
Killing me softly with his song
Telling my whole life with his words
Killing me softly with his song.”
And unfortunately if the first four markers of a life lived without the benefit of an office are harsh, the next four are downright brutal.
5) Your Fruit is Stolen
After Hagar was ordered to be fruitful without the benefit of love, courtship or marriage covenant, her fruit was to be appropriated by Sarai.
I watch this in the marketplace and in church repeatedly. As often as you find a barren leader, you will find an officeless person commanded to bear fruit for the leader, in order to disguise the barrenness of the leader.
It is, admittedly, very challenging to be in the spot light as a pastor or worship leader or boss, with huge public pressure on you to be fruitful. It is even harder when you are barren as a leader.
But the pain of a barren leader is nothing compared to the pain of the officeless subordinate who is forced to be fruitful only to watch the fruit be snatched away from them and appropriated by the barren one.
6) Jealousy Strikes
After Sarai came up with a cracked plan, and Abram agreed to it, and Hagar endured it, Sarai decided it was a bad plan, and turned her anger toward Hagar, who was the victim, not the designer or perpetrator of this scheme.
Even though the barren boss has defacto control over the officeless underling, that does not stop the jealousy since the barren boss can do nothing to stop public opinion. No matter what games and scams the barren one embraces, there is always the knife-like truth that they are barren and the person they are using is not.
This generally leads to a relentless campaign of delegitimization of the one without the office, by the barren person who holds a social position of influence.
7) Protection is Removed
Emotional abuse was not enough for Sarai. In her white hot shame she directed her rage at Abram and even invoked God as being on her side against her slave and her husband. (Excuse me?! Talk about twisted logic. She makes Adam and Eve look honest by comparison.)
Abram crumbled under the firestorm and choose to save himself by lifting all social norms off the situation, permitting Sarai to be as abusive as she wanted to be, without interference from him, even though Hagar was carrying his child.
With the passive approval of her husband secured, Sarai embarked on a campaign of cruelty toward Hagar, whose only crime was being obediently fruitful in a degrading context.
And to add the highest possible degree of pain to the whole travesty, Abram cloaked his cowardice in a moral overtone by telling Sarai to do whatever she thought best — as if Hagar were a disobedient dog chewing on slippers that simply needed to be trained.
This script is so predictable. The jealousy driven fury of the barren leader paints the fruitful slave as a rebel. The leader goes up the authority structure and receives permission to suspend all rules and rights so they can teach the rebellious, fruitful slave a lesson “for their own good.”
It matters not what the social system is. Whether this occurs in church or in the marketplace, whether there are union rules or civil service protection, the rules invariably melt like snow in the summer when a barren leader needs to resolve the problem of a fruitful underling.
And the whole community stands by silently, agreeing through their passivity with the travesty of injustice that ensues, once the powers that be agree to back the barren leader in his campaign to eradicate the fruitful officeless one.
8) God Sides with the Abuser
Eventually Hagar fled, feeling that the emotional and physical abuse was too much to handle. She could not resolve the situation because it lay in the complex dynamics between Sarai and Abram. She could not submit enough to make Sarai not barren. She could not hide her fruitfulness in a way that would not inconvenience or expose Sarai.
So she fled for her own survival.
And God met her in her flight, when He had ignored her in her obedience and suffering.
He admitted to her pain — actually He called it misery.
He blessed her son in the womb.
And He sent her back to Sarai.
He gave her no strategy for dealing with it. There was no promise that things would be better. There was no promise that He would set limits to Sarai or that He would give grace to Hagar. He did not give her any time limit to the misery. He did not promise to protect Ishmael from the abuse in the womb and after birth.
He just sent her back.
She was not the first, nor the last. Some of you reading this have endured steps one through seven of this sequence and have been able to keep existing, even though there was little you could grace with the word “living.”
But then how do you deal with God Himself sending you back into the mess at the exact point in time when you are broken and desperate for a reprieve?
Where is the sense in that?
Copyright September 2011 by Arthur Burk
From the Quarterdeck, in Anaheim