The angel of the LORD found her by a spring of water in the wilderness, the spring on the way to Shur. And he said, “Hagar, servant of Sarai, where have you come from and where are you going?” She said, “I am fleeing from my mistress Sarai.”
During my Senior year of college, people were constantly asking me about where I was going after graduation. Variations of this question included "What's next?" "What's the plan?" "What are you going to do with your life?" and "Have you figured out your ten year plan because everyone else obviously has and you are falling behind."
No one really asked that last question, but some times it felt like they did. And some times I did feel like I was behind. In fact, some times I still feel like I'm behind. The truth is where are you going is a hard question.
Maybe your life has direction and a detailed plan. If so, good for you. We have nothing in common, but that's great. More often than not though, most of us have at least a little bit of uncertainty about where we are going. Whether you're trying to figure out where to go to college, what job to take, or which person to marry, life is full of "where are you going" moments. What's the plan and what's next are two questions we are always trying to answer in one way or another.
This passage in Genesis shows us Hagar's interaction with God during one of her "where are you going" moments. At first glance, it looks like God is just like everyone I talked to my Senior year. It sounds like he is asking Hagar where she is going as if he wants to find out what her plan is. He seems like he wants to know what's next. The truth is that Hagar has run away from Abram and Sarai and she is lost, so if she even has a plan, it's not looking good. Guess what? We've all been there. Whether you're someone who knows where you're going or whether you're completely clueless, we've all had our fair share of moments where it doesn't look good.
In these moments (speaking for myself here), it's easy to want to avoid the question. When the destination is uncertain, or when things don't look exactly like you planned them to, this question only brings to light something you'd rather remain hidden. Because no one wants to be asked where they are going if they don't have a good answer. But here's where I think God is different: God cares more about our disposition than our destination.
Yes, having a direction and destination is ideal, but it's equally important (if not more so) to have the right mindset for the journey. God is eager to supply us with his plan, but we have to be eager to submit to it. If I am constantly trying to go MY way to get to MY destination, where does that leave room for God? Hagar is running her own direction to save her own skin, but God stops her as if to say, "Hey, don't forget to take me with you!" And he's saying that to all of us because when we learn to be pre-disposed to including God on the journey, He is more than happy to take care of our direction and destination. What a relief!
Now, back to Genesis for one more point. The correct answer to God's question is the desert, but God already knew that. He knew where she was going to end up, whether or not she even knew herself. So then, why did God even ask? If he knew where she was going, why bother asking the question? I think God was really asking Hagar what she was going towards. And interestingly enough, this is the exact question that Hagar avoids...
Sometimes our only answer to the question where are you going is to explain where you aren't going. When people would ask me about "my plan" Senior year, I could have easily responded with "Well, I'm not going to be an engineer/scientist/doctor/professional athlete." I could list a million things that I was NOT going to be, but that's not what people cared to hear about.
The same is true with God. He really asked Hagar two questions: "Where have you come from?" and "Where are you going?" Hagar only answered the first question, but whether she knows it or not, by doing so she answered both. All Hagar knew was that she was running away from Sarai. What she may or may not have realized was that meant she was running towards a barren desert.
What we are going away from often dictates what we are going towards.
In other words, running away from one thing always involves running towards something else. Think about it literally. If you are running a race, you can either look at the starting line behind you or the finish line ahead of you. As long as you're running the right direction, the only difference is your perspective. Here's the thing: no one wins a race by looking at the starting line. Try running as fast as you can while looking over your shoulder. You're either going to trip and fall or run into something. So when God asked Hagar where she was going, her answer showed she was focusing on what she was going away from. She was looking over her shoulder.
I can choose to run away from the devil or run towards God. In either situation, I'm moving in the same direction, right? The difference is what I'm looking at and focusing on. Hagar was choosing to focus on running away from Sarai instead of towards the desert. Both are terrible options, but it wasn't until God opened her eyes to see what she was running towards that she was able to turn around.
The takeaway from the passage is this: It's more important to know who you're going with than where you're going. Ultimately, all of Hagar's problems would have been solved if she had simply invited God to join her on the journey from the start, and the same is true for you and me. Having a plan for your life is pointless if you're excluding God from it. Besides, His plan is better and more important than ours. Instead of focusing on where you are going, focus on who you are following.