“Sometimes I wander out of beaten ways,” says Robert Frost in his poem, “An Encounter.” Frost describes a day when he went ‘half boring and half climbing through a swamp of cedar.’ His coat got hooked, and he became stuck. Looking up what did he see? A resurrected tree.
He asked the tree, “You here? Where aren’t you nowadays?” Not sure if he was speaking of the tree or to God, but certainly it would apply that God is everywhere, watching our every step and misstep.
As for Robert Frost, he shared his lot with the tree, “I’m not off to anywhere at all.” Naturally, he was wedged in a mess not sure how to get out, hence, his statement, “Sometimes I wander out of beaten ways.”
Why We Wander
Ever run ahead of God? Ever get yourself in a situation that, at first you thought was the answer, when in fact, it was worse than your previous demise? Yes, we all wander out of beaten ways and suffer for it, just like Frost.
Sarai did! She not only hurt herself, but she also put Abram, her husband, in a tough position. Her decision didn’t just create chaos for her immediate family; it confused the emotions and role of Hagar, her slave. She knew God’s promise; she and her husband would have a son from their bodies. But Sarai went ahead of God anyway.
Was it impatience that got a hold of her? Was she bored like Frost? Or was there a deeper sin motivating her hastiness?
Abram’s wife Sarai had not borne him children. She owned an Egyptian slave named Hagar.
Sarai said to Abram, “Since the Lord has prevented me from bearing children, go to my slave; perhaps I can have children by her.”
And Abram agreed to what Sarai said.
So Abram’s wife Sarai took Hagar, her Egyptian slave, and gave her to her husband Abram as a wife for him. [This happened] after Abram had lived in the land of Canaan 10 years. He slept with Hagar, and she became pregnant.
When she [Hagar] realized that she was pregnant, she looked down on her mistress [Sarai]. Then Sarai said to Abram, “You are responsible for my suffering! I put my slave in your arms, and ever since she saw that she was pregnant, she has looked down on me. May the Lord judge between me and you.”
Abram replied to Sarai, “Here, your slave is in your hands; do whatever you want with her.” Then Sarai mistreated her so much that she ran away from her. (Genesis 16:1-7).
Sarai was impatient. But that was not her first sin. She was frustrated. Again, frustration was not where the decision to go ahead of God began. Fear that she would not have children may have been part of her problem, but I believe the root went far deeper than fear.
Solomon writes, “When pride comes, disgrace follows…” (Proverbs 11:2). I would venture to say that Sarai had ‘an encounter’ with pride. Her barrenness brought her social shame. In the context of their culture and history, a woman’s purpose was to bear children. If she did not do so, she was a disgrace to society and her husband. Her pride opened opportunities for her to consider the cultural ways that were common to that part of the world. She wandered out of God’s way.
Not only did Sarai not trust God for His provision but she dragged her husband down with her. She did not just give Hagar to Abram as a concubine (not that doing so would have made her choice any better); she gave her to him as his wife! What a mess! I cannot imagine the conflicting emotions and responsibilities that came to Hagar as she slept with Abram and now bore his child.
Becoming pregnant elevated her position in society, and then pride got a hold of her heart as she looked down on Sarai. This muddle gets worse. Sarai blames Abram! What does he do? He disregards Hagar and brushes off the responsibility to his angry, resentful, and jealous wife, Sarai. In turn, she mistreats her slave. When pride comes, disgrace does indeed follow.
Dan and I are very familiar with wandering out of God’s way. We were young and immature. My pride got the best of me. Standing in line to purchase a side view mirror for Dan’s (paid off, mind you) little car, I became distracted. I wandered off into the showroom of the dealership. A shiny, fully loaded, black 200 SX caught my eye. I waltzed over to look at it. Caught up in the glim and gleam, I sat in the driver’s seat. The salesman knew he had me. And he did!
After Dan purchased his mirror, he came looking for me. To make a long story short, I convinced Dan we should have it; we drove that baby out of the showroom after incurring 60 months of debt for the full price. That sports car did nothing but bring us trouble until the day we unloaded it.
I wanted to be like everyone else. I wanted to have the most beautiful car; I wanted the false status that we were well-off. We were well off before the car! That vehicle prevented us from doing and having things of more value. It caused us lots of grief! If only I would have stayed in line!
How to Stop the Wandering
Pride is a tricky sin. It slithers sneakily in our heart unannounced. But one check I have used to make it stand out is to ask myself this one little question, “If I do this thing (whatever it is), who gets the glory? Me? Or God?” Suddenly the sneaky pride is exposed!
Sarai wanted the glory. I wanted glory. We both wanted to be ‘culturally’ accepted.
“I” is the indicator that we are seeking self-glory and not God’s.
Not once did Sarai pray and ask God about giving Hagar to her husband as his wife. Nor did I pray for wisdom on purchasing the 200 SX. We both drug our husband down with us. Shame on us! We could have been better wives than this!
Before making any decision, pray and ask God if this is His will. Give yourself a few days before moving forward. This time allows the allure and attraction of your idea to wane and for God’s will to elevate. Then have the courage to obey and trust Him! On the one side of wisdom we learned that “When pride comes, disgrace follows” but the other side we have hope, for “with humility comes wisdom” (Proverbs 11:2).