Most of the children in our town don’t watch the Christmas parade from the sidewalk. They are proud participants in the parade itself. Almost every child ends up on a float of some kind, for church or school, daycare, ballet, karate, Scouts, band, or chorus.
It’s the moms, dads and grandparents who wave from the sidelines.
Two years ago, my oldest daughter rode all the way down the Main Street of our town, pulled behind Cinderella’s carriage. Mostly her view of the parade itself was limited to either the folks lining the street or the few floats before and behind her in the line that she could see.
It was enough.
After we had climbed into the car and turned the heat on full blast to thaw the chill we felt deep in our spines and down through our toes, she asked a question that had apparently been on her mind during the whole parade route.
“Mom, there were Boy Scouts in the parade, right?”
“So….does that mean there are GIRL Scouts.”
I sucked in my breath. “Yes, absolutely there are Girl Scouts and yes, they are totally wonderful and great and fun. But you can’t do everything, my love. Some things we have to let go.”
Even good things can become bad things. Like when your five-year-old child wants to do ballet, piano, Awana, theater, Girl Scouts, gymnastics, horse-riding and anything and everything else represented by a float in our town’s Christmas parade.
We’re soul-suffocators, too, cramming so much into our lives we don’t have room to breathe.
And it’s not just time. It’s things, and media, and noise, and friendships and just about everything that’s not necessarily bad, but which ultimately crowds out room for Jesus in the heart that’s supposedly His cozy and welcoming home.
I’ve grown sadly familiar with the phrase, “Everybody else ….” or “My friend has…” and “The other girls at school watch this TV show…”
Sometimes, I’m not just listening to this mantra, I’m the one delivering the whiny sermon to God.
“If others can have this, couldn’t I?” “If she can do this, it’s okay for me, too, right?”
We’re sold by the advertisers and the infomercials and wooed by the parade of life that incessantly marches past good causes and activities and projects and the latest and greatest in home kitchen gadgetry.
And sometimes God asks us to lay it down.
As Kelly Minter writes in her book, No Other gods: Confronting Our Modern Day Idols, “before Abraham could ever offer up the child born of the miraculous, he first had to offer up the child born of his flesh” (p. 128).
Obedience to God begins with Ishmael.
Long before Abraham’s heart-wrenching journey to the mountain where he lifted his knife over his beloved son Isaac, Abraham had to let his other son go: Ishmael—the baby boy of Abraham and the maidservant Hagar. For 13 years, Ishmael had been Abraham’s only child and while it turned out that he wasn’t the heir of promise, still he was loved.
And when Sarah demanded that her maidservant Hagar and the teenage boy, Ishmael, be thrown out into the wilderness, Abraham begged God, “If only Ishmael might live under your blessing!” (Genesis 17:20).
Our prayers echo his at times. “If only you’d bless this, God!” “If only this would be okay with you. Isn’t this great and good and wonderful and won’t you bless it?”
We ask God to bless or at least tolerate our “Ishmaels,” those good things that aren’t holy things or the extras and objects of our affection that have never been part of God’s plan or design for us, but that we love and hold on to so very tightly.
Or maybe our Ishmael is the way we’ve tried to force God’s promises into being, impatiently rushing ahead of God’s timing and doing things our own way.
Kelly Minter reminds us, “He has grace on our Ishmaels, and yet he is unwilling to allow them to ever take the place of Isaac. No, what is born of flesh can never substitute for what is born of the Spirit” (p. 127).
That’s no less a step of obedience than the radical sacrifice of Isaac. It’s the letting go of Ishmael.
It’s submitting to Him our habits, our committees, our involvement, our activities, our parenting, our expectations for our kids, our relationships, our spending, our eating, our five-year-plan for our lives, our ministry, and the way we are pursuing His call. Even if it’s good or right for others, even if it seems necessary or like it will help us reach his promises faster, even if we love it…we let it go if He asks.
We’re holding out for God’s best here; not missing out on the promise because we’re distracted and satiated, tired out, filled up, and content with everything else–everything less.
Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer and worship leader. Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness. Her upcoming book, Ask Me Anything, Lord: Opening Our Hearts to God’s Questions, will be released in the Fall of 2013! To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.
Copyright © 2012 Heather King