Once upon a time, a Middle Eastern nomad packed up his family and his property and set out to go to Canaan. His name was Terah. He had two sons and a daughter-in-law, the widow of a dead son of his. His son Abram had a wife who was childless.
No one’s quite sure why he set out for Canaan. St. Stephen, in his speech before the Sanhedrin, offers the interpretation that God had already called Abram to go to Canaan. Presumably Abram had set out along with his father’s whole family.
Nonetheless, Terah got to a city called Haran and stopped there. That’s where he lived out the rest of his life. After his father’s death, Abram heard the call to continue to Canaan as the new head of the family. This is the famous call, the Lech Lecha:
“Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Get out of your country, from your kindred and from your father’s house, to a land I will show you. I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and curse those who curse you; and in you all the tribes of the earth shall be blessed.’” (Genesis 12:1-3 OSB)
This call is the fundamental point of Abram’s life, for it changes him from just another of the people of the Middle East to the man who would be the father of God’s covenant people, Israel. The stories of Abram’s relationship to this God are familiar. His name is changed to Abraham (meaning Father of Many). His barren wife bears a son, whom he later prepares to sacrifice in obedience to God’s command. He intercedes for the sinners in Sodom and Gomorrah. He is buried in Canaan, with the promise that his children through Isaac will inherit all of the promised land. So far, so good.
What interests me is the time he spent in Haran. The waiting time. Is it like Dr. Seuss’ poem?
“… a most useless place.
The Waiting Place…
“…for people just waiting.
Waiting for a train to go
or a bus to come, or a plane to go
or the mail to come, or the rain to go
or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow
or waiting around for a Yes or a No
or waiting for their hair to grow.
Everyone is just waiting.
“Waiting for the fish to bite
or waiting for wind to fly a kite
or waiting around for Friday night
or waiting, perhaps, for their Uncle Jake
or a pot to boil, or a Better Break
or a string of pearls, or a pair of pants
or a wig with curls, or Another Chance.
Everyone is just waiting.”
Is Abram “just waiting” for the time to fulfill his vocation?
I don’t think so, actually. When God calls someone to do something new, it’s not often an instantaneous conversion. A period of waiting, discerning, and growing in the knowledge of God is often required. St. Paul is a good example. He spent fourteen years in the desert after Jesus knocked him over on the road to Damascus. Abraham clearly used the time in Haran to be a good son to his father, before the God who claims to be supreme over the ancestral idols called him again to start a new family of those who would be faithful to the One God. In the fullness of time, Abram became Abraham, the father of the faithful. But none of this happened overnight.
In my own waiting place, I pray for the courageous patience of Abraham to discern God’s call and obey it. Even if that means waiting longer than I’d like, I’ll use the time to get to know God better.