The Lord appeared to Isaac and said, “Do not go down to Egypt; settle in the land that I shall show you. Reside in this land as an alien, and I will be with you and will bless you, for to you and to your descendants I will give all these lands, and I will fulfill the oath that I swore to your father Abraham. I will make your offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven and will give to your offspring all these lands, and all the nations of the earth shall gain blessing for themselves through your offspring, because Abraham obeyed my voice and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.” - Genesis 26:2-5
I come from a long line of busy people. Growing up, Saturdays in my house were for errands and chores and sports and social events. I don’t really have any memories of lazy mornings spent watching cartoons in pajamas or just sitting around (though I’m sure we did that sometimes). I liked all the hustle and activity though. I still do. Sure, I get tired and dream about 24 hours alone in a hotel room like most moms I know; but, in general, my preferred schedule is a full one. I enjoy being on the move, and I struggle to make time for rest and other things that don’t feel productive in some way. On the weekends, while the rest of my family watches a movie, I am *with* them, but I’m also folding laundry or making a grocery list. Recently, I’ve even upped my very favorite pastime – reading – by converting to almost strictly audiobooks which allow me to DO things (drive/make dinner/etc.) while I read. Much of the time, I admit, being able to sustain this level of busyness feels like my own small superpower, and I’m – quite smugly – pretty proud.
When I first read the above passage from Genesis, I had a hard time connecting with any of it. Being born and raised in Roanoke, I can’t relate to being an alien in the land; and, frankly, the idea of having “offspring as numerous as the stars” is terrifying. Also, my Type A tendencies make me exceptionally good at obeying rules and laws. So, all good there too…
Then I re-read and landed on the word “settle” in verse two… “The Lord appeared to Isaac and said, ‘Do not go down to Egypt; settle in the land that I shall show you…’” Did you catch that? Don’t go. Settle. The NIV translation uses the word “stay” here. As in: Stay put. Stay still. Don’t move.
If I’m being honest, I find it much easier to obey when the directions involve some kind of action. Give me a To Do a list, and I’ll knock it out. Need something planned or organized? I’m your girl. Just tell me what to DO, and I’m on it. But ask me to settle, to stay, and I suddenly feel very uncomfortable.
In my small group this winter, we’ve been reading Shauna Niequist’s book Present Over Perfect and discussing how it is often so easy to spend our time and energy on things that can be quantified and/or recognized (like billable hours at work, items crossed off a list, or even how clean our house is) compared to spending time simply being– with our family, in relationship with others, even with God… Niequist writes, “Christians ought to be decidedly anti-frantic, relentlessly present to each moment, profoundly grounded and grateful. Why, then, am I so tired? So parched? So speed-addicted? Again, the fault lies not with the tradition but with the perversion of it, and with the Christians, herself --- in this case, of course, me.” And, of course, me.
Isaac had been raised to obey God above all else – remember, his dad once tried to sacrifice HIM as a burnt offering because the Lord told him to. I imagine he too prided himself – at least a little – on his obedience and goodness. I can’t help but wonder, then, if maybe he’d been a little disappointed by this command to simply stay. His father had been called on a big adventure - to go to a new land and establish a new nation (Genesis 12) – and Isaac, in response to another great famine in the land, was trying to go south towards Egypt just like Abraham had done, but God stopped him.
Like the classic game of Red Light, Green Light, sometimes God calls us to go, and sometimes he calls us to NOT go. To STAY - for one more book before bed when I could be doing dishes, one cup of coffee with a friend when I could be running errands, one morning spent reading and being still when I could be sending emails… This idea of God stopping my great plans for action and productivity is really hard for me. Staying is much less flashy and impressive. “Red Light” is a lot less fun and exciting than “Green Light.” Still, I’m learning – like Isaac – that true obedience is being able to recognize and follow BOTH of those commands, and there is so much peace in the settling and staying.