It is hard to look at endings.
Hagar has run out of water and her young son is very thirsty.
And so she lays him down in the shade of a tree and turns around and walks away.
“Let me not look on the death of the boy,”
Because she can’t see it.
She can’t witness this ending.
This week I’ve been thinking a lot about endings.
I’m actually right in the middle of one, it seems.
And though I can’t share the details of this particular ending with all of you,
I can tell you how truly terrible it feels
to reach that ending.
To lay a fragile, new hope
under the shade of a tree in the desert
and walk away.
I don’t want to look on it --
on the death of hope.
I don’t want to leave it there,
and yet I’m compelled
to lay it down
I had forgotten how much finding the end
feels like giving birth:
pushing a new
and sometimes unwanted reality into being
in the midst of pain and tears and human messiness.
There is a terrible resistance at play
in moving toward a new life, different from the one that preceded it.
We don’t always want to go where we’re going,
and yet here is where we find ourselves.
Hagar is finding her ending in the desert.
The last of the bread is consumed and the water skin is empty.
She gives her child the relief of the shade and turns away
And then, the story tells us,
she lifts up her voice, and weeps.
She is not begging for help.
She is not crying out for deliverance.
She is wailing the cry of one for whom all is lost --
a cry filled with nothing but stark loss and abandonment.
Perhaps you have cried such a cry
when you have found yourself at an ending.
Perhaps you have turned away from seeing it --
from looking at the ending coming into being.
Endings are rarely neat and hardly ever pretty.
The ends of relationships are often fractured
and mired with hesitancy and indecision.
The end of life can be painfully long in coming,
tangled with IV tubes and doped up on painkillers.
The summer I worked as a hospital chaplain
I found that the end of life was often frantic with logistics --
trips back and forth to the airport as relatives came and left,
cell phones ringing and nurses in and out of the hospital room.
Tensions simmered between siblings
or arguments erupted about end-of-life wishes.
There was, truth-be-told, an ugliness to all of it.
One day I sat with a man whose roommate at the hospital
suddenly went into cardiac arrest.
Behind the thin curtain that divided the two beds,
the doctors worked on the man for almost an hour,
trying to bring him back.
It is not like it is in the movies.
It’s not dramatic.
It’s just long and drawn out,
and very physical,
He did not survive.
And when his wife arrived for a visit and found that her husband was dead,
her anger and vitriol could not be described as anything but ugly.
It’s hard to look at endings.
I had, perhaps, expected that there would be grace-filled moments in the hospital,
praying with patients at their bedside and hearing their stories.
And there were those moments, in the midst of all of it.
But more often the grace I experienced
came late at night when I left the hospital, exhausted,
and arrived home and sobbed
for the pain of it all.
It was as if I was sobbing for the pain of the whole world.
And there in that desolation -- that’s where I ran smack into God.
It was not a bright light or a gentle presence.
Not an angelic voice.
It felt more like descending farther and farther into a very deep pool,
and then feeling my feet hit the bottom.
God was tangible in those moments --
nothing could have been more real
than finding the smooth, cold bottom of the pool.
It’s hard to look at endings.
Hagar lays her son down under a tree
and turns her face away.
She lifts her voice and weeps and waits for her ending.
But Hagar has not been brought to the wilderness to die.
When God opens her eyes,
she emerges into a new reality --
a wilderness which is made,
not for her demise,
but for her rebirth.
Water springs up before her,
fresh and cool,
and as she fills her water skin and places it to her son’s lips,
a new life begins to knit itself together before her.
It is a new and different kind of life in the wilderness:
a land which she once understood as harsh and barren,
but now sees can sustain her.
It is a new and different life:
one that exists outside the captivity of slavery from which she came.
It is a life that promises harshness and difficulty --
but it also promises freedom.
There is a strange kind of possibility at work
when we lay down hope
and walk away.
And it is hard to look at endings.
It is hard to see what is being made
as we divest ourselves of hope,
divest ourselves of a vision
of “how it was supposed to be.”
Or even divest ourselves of version of life we clung to,
not because it was good, but simply because it was what we knew.
We did not envision this life in the wilderness,
but God has shown us that there is water enough here for us to live.
Here there is food to eat,
And here there is freedom.