Children in the Wilderness
God was with Ishmael, and he grew up; he lived in the wilderness, and became an expert with the bow. – Genesis 21:20 (NRSV)
Ishmael was a child of the wilderness. Conceived in the wilderness of slavery, he was in utero when his mother Hagar fled to the desert to escape abuse. When his half-brother Isaac was three, Ishmael’s father Abram sent the 16-year-old and his mother into the wilderness of Beer-sheba with only “some bread and a skin of water,” barely enough to last a day in the desert.
Thanks to divine intervention, Ishmael and his mother lived, but they never went back to his father and his other family. Instead, according to Genesis, the boy grew up and lived in the wilderness for the rest of his life, a hard place to be at any age. Yet God was with the boy, even in the wilderness.
There are children in our time who, like Ishmael, have lived their entire lives in the wilderness. Their desolate places aren’t called Beer-sheba or Paran. They may not even be places, but situations with names like Poverty or Racism, Sickness or Hunger. How is God with such children in their wildernesses? As importantly, how are we?
That question becomes more urgent as the Coronavirus spreads across the nation and world. In this pandemic wilderness, as more of God’s children – of all ages – face sickness, hunger, and economic despair, how do we offer God’s love? What will we give of our lives so that, like Ishmael, God’s children will know God is with them in this wilderness?
As you were with Ishmael in the desert, be with all your children, O God, in this fearsome time. Give us the courage and commitment to be with them, too.
Talitha Arnold is Senior Minister of the United Church of Santa Fe (UCC), Santa Fe, New Mexico. She is the author of Mark Parts 1 and 2 of the Listen Up! Bible Study series and Worship for Vital Congregations.