Abraham breathed his last and died in a ripe old age, an old man and satisfied with life; and he was gathered to his people. Then his sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah . . . (Genesis 25:8-9).
I know how Ishmael must have felt as he stood over that grave. Seventy-five years earlier, his father, Abraham, exiled him and his mother, Hagar, from their home. Ishmael was only thirteen. His mother and Abraham’s wife, Sarah, had a confrontation, and Sarah demanded Abraham send Hagar and Ishmael away.
It seems from the biblical record’s silence that Abraham never spoke with his son again.
Now, in the twenty-fifth chapter of Genesis, the thirteen-year-old turned eighty-eight stands at his father’s graveside. I believe Ishmael wept – wept for a relationship he never had with his father, for an intimacy he always longed for, but pushed from his mind so he could maintain some degree of emotional peace.
I remember how I felt when I learned my father had died. I was fifty-five when I heard the news. It was too late to attend his funeral. He’d already been dead several years.
Although I hadn't seen him for decades and decades, I grieved over his death and the relationship I never had with him. Dad hadn’t exiled me and Mom. He exiled himself. He left us for another woman. I was five when it happened. Yet, even now, nearly six years after I learned of his death, when I see elderly men who resemble the man in the photos taken shortly before he died, a sense of sorrow – and loss -- hovers above me.
I’ve met many men like myself and Ishmael during my adult life, men who wonder what it would have been like to have been held in their daddy’s arms. Men gripped by the memory that their fathers never loved them.
It’s a hard realization.
But it needn’t be a hopeless one.
I hope Ishmael discovered before his own death what I discovered about my God – that He never leaves His children. He never forsakes them. He never exiles them from His home. Earthly fathers and mothers might cast us aside – but our heavenly Father vowed He would never do that. He promised, “Behold, I have inscribed you in my hands; your walls are always before my eyes” (Isaiah 49:16); and, “Even if my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will take me in” (Psalm 27:10).
And because of that eternal promise, our lives need never be hopeless.