One of the most overlooked stories in the Bible involves the father of our great father in the faith, Abraham. He experienced a painful loss that ended up preventing him from reaching his intended destination. “This is the account of Terah. Terah became the father of Abram, Nahor and Haran. And Haran became the father of Lot. While his father Terah was still alive, Haran died in Ur of the Chaldeans, in the land of his birth” (Genesis 11:27-28).
In the next verses, we see God trying to move in Terah’s life, trying to get him to Canaan, the Promised Land. In fact, I wonder if God’s original call was to Terah, not Abraham. “Terah took his son Abram, his grandson Lot the son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, the wife of his son Abram, and together they set out from Ur of the Chaldeans to go to Canaan. But when they came to Haran, they settled there. Terah lived 205 years, and he died in Haran ” (Genesis 11:31-32). Although this family moved from their native land toward the land of milk and honey, Canaan, Terah never made it. Perhaps when he and his family reached a city that just so happened to have the same name as his dead son, he couldn’t go any farther.
Terah had to pass through Haran in order to go where God was calling him. Once there, I suspect that he must have been reminded of his pain. And he just stopped. He couldn’t go on. It was too hard, too painful, too demanding. It seems he could not let go of his grief in order to embrace the joy that lay ahead. He likely could not believe the God was still in control and had not abandoned him. He stopped short based on his own perceptions, rather than pursuing the truth of God’s destination. As a result, he never reached the place God wanted to take him.
Like Terah, many of us are shaped by our negative experiences and never overcome them to discover the destiny to which God is calling us. Too often we stop short, refusing to believe that we can catch our breath and enjoy an abundant life. We succumb to fears and false perceptions. The enemy defeats us with lies that bog us down, causing us to lose energy and hope. We get stuck in the doldrums, a dead zone from which we just can’t seem to emerge and get back on track.
Life should come with one of those big signs that you see on ocean beaches, the kind that cautions swimmers to beware of riptides. Only this one would read, “Warning: When we are hurt, we’re not very smart.” Pain can cause blindness and obstruct objectivity and common sense. Things may look calm on the surface, but a swirling vortex below waits to swallow us up. We let the past define the future and never move on. We think we’re doing the right thing, but often were simply doing whatever alleviates our pain in some way. When we reached debilitating places, as the land of Haran was for Terah, we must allow ourselves to need and to trust the people in our lives.
Certainly, the enemy’s lies pollute our other relationships. Terah’s decision affected his whole family. In Genesis 12, we see that God had to separate the family. He told Abraham to move on, leave his father’s house, and follow God’s leading. What an incredibly difficult decision that must have been.
The problem with baggage is that it affects other people’s trips. Have you ever been traveling with a group and had one person’s lost luggage impact everyone on the tour? You’re traveling together, perhaps for a work convention, on a church mission trip, maybe a field trip at school or just a vacation with friends. Almost everyone packs light and reduces their luggage to carry-on. And yet there’s the one person who checks two bags and still drags an overstuffed duffel on board. It’s bad enough that the entire group has to wait at baggage claim upon arrival, but if the person’s luggage gets lost, that causes delays, frustrations, and disappointment.
The same is true for us. The more baggage we carry with us, the more it slows us down. And our relationships are affected when we can’t handle our own issues and constantly force everyone else to deal with them too. Our wounds get transferred to the people close to us. And unless they are vigilant and know how to handle us, the pain becomes contagious and compounds our heartache.
We make decisions that aren’t good for us and create defense systems to ensure that we’re never hurt in the same way again. We become controlling and rigid, suspicious and skeptical of others’ motives. Our insecurities accumulate from an ocean wave into a tsunami of paranoia, fear, and distrust. The most tragic result of unresolved pain is that it can destroy our relationship with God. After Abram moves on, Terah is never heard from again. His story ends there.
God actually intended people to be a source of life, a community of support and fellowship, taking care of one another. I’m fascinated by Paul’s shout-out to his friend Onesiphorus, whom he described as a breath of fresh air (2 Timothy 1:16, TLB).
I gained a new appreciation for this kind of friendship when I was preparing to plant Church of the Highlands in 2001. The first thing I did was assemble a team of people who wanted to help me. I called this committed team of thirty-four people the launch team. John Maxwell once said that “it takes teamwork to make the dream work.” That is so true. None of us could even have come close to accomplishing individually what we accomplished together. Our shared vision, commitment, and devotion made us better together
Genuine fellowship, that sense of having a few people in our lives who really know us, accept us, and love us, can make all the difference in the world. A sense of community can make our trials bearable and make our triumphs worth celebrating. We can listen and share, help and encourage, support and be supported.