Reflecting and Doing
What am I cut out for?
We often use phrases like, “I’m not cut out for this!” when we are in a situation that does not suit us. (Me, trying to make a touch-down in rugby, for example.) This activity helps us to think about how we can adapt our (less-than-perfect) selves to our (less-than-perfect) situations.
You will need:
- Cookie cutters in various shapes
- Playdough or plasticine
Set a cookie cutter at the far end of a table and try to cut some paper to the exact same shape. You are not allowed to touch or move the cutter, or to move your paper to the cutter. You must do it at a distance.
When you have finished, bring the cutter over and see how well your shape fits. It probably won’t, so fold or trim pieces from your paper until it will fit inside the cutter’s shape.
Doubtless you now have a weird shape, with bits missing, crumpled corners and a pile of shreds on the floor. If we think of ourselves as being ‘cut out’, having a fixed personality with pre-set abilities and non-abilities, we can end up like that weird shape of paper. Life does not give us situations that fit us perfectly, so we struggle fit ourselves into places we don’t, and we have to cut off parts of ourselves that are outside the remit and leave empty the places that “aren’t me”.
Of course, we all have strengths and weaknesses, things we enjoy and things we find harder, but I don’t believe those are set in stone. For years – decades – I believed I was bad at writing, because I was rubbish at spelling in my junior school, and I had messy handwriting. It wasn’t until I was in my 40s and took A-level English as a hobby that I found I enjoyed writing essays. And I got an A. After that I wrote more, and when the dozenth person said, “you write well!” I started to think that maybe this is something I can do, after all.
So now take the playdough and repeat the exercise. You’ll make a shape that does not fit. And that’s fine. When you bring the cutter close, you can adapt the shape to fit the situation. We cannot usually adapt life to suit us, but we can adapt ourselves to suit where God places us, and perhaps we’ll find we can fit in completely unexpected ways.
Picture the scene with me. Verse 63 – Isaac in the fields, no doubt wearing a white shirt with sleeves rolled up to show off his manly muscles. He looks up and sees her in the distance. Could this really be her at last? … Cut to camels … She’s been travelling for days, but her hair and makeup are flawless. She glances up shyly, eyelids all a-flutter … their eyes meet … Cue the violins and wind machine.
It’s straight out of ‘Love Actually’, or ‘Four Weddings’, or some other rom-com with Hugh Grant. The classic story of servant-meets-girl, servant-gets-girl, boy-finally-sees-girl-on-a-camel. Hollywood should buy the rights immediately.
To give you some background, Abraham is old and successful. All he needs now is a grandson, and for that he needs to find a wife for Isaac. He sends a servant to go find a wife from his kinsfolk, back in ‘Ur of the Chaldeans’. The servant ‘just happens’ to bump into Rebekah, who ‘just happens’ to be Abraham’s great-niece! The passage we have today is what the servant said to Rebekah’s father to persuade him to part with his daughter. Apparently it worked, because she happily trolls off with these dudes she’s only just met and marries her first-cousin-once-removed.
But leaving aside the dewy-eyed romance, this passage is famous for the interesting prayer of the servant. It’s an example of what we sometimes call ‘laying out a fleece’. (Remember Gideon and his wet woollies in Judges 6?) The servant said, ‘if such-and-such happens then I’ll take that as meaning you want me to do such-and-such.’
There are a couple of issues raised here which are very relevant for Christians today, particularly with the demise of arranged marriages in the Western world, and the corresponding high expectations of the Hollywood-style ‘love at first sight’ relationships coupled with a Disneyesque ‘happily ever after’.
Firstly, guidance. Is this a good way of choosing a partner? Or of making any decision come to that? Is it OK to toss a coin and, while it is in the air pray, ‘God, if you want me to [fill in decision] please make it come down heads?’
Well, God seems to honour it: Gideon got his answer, even when he did it a second time to be sure, and Rebekah ended up having a happy marriage with Isaac. And then there’s the weird Urim and Thummin things that the ancient Israelites used for drawing lots to work out what God wanted (see Ex 28) – so maybe it is.
But we are also warned sternly about putting God to the test (Deut 6:16, Matt 4:7), as in – don’t. So what are we to do? Can we ask for signs? Should we take notice of ‘co-incidences’?
As with most things, the Why is more important than the What. If my daughter brings me a cup of tea with sugar in (I don’t like tea with sugar in), I’ll be happy that she thought to do it, because it was done with kindness. My daughter is 10, and to her, everything is better with sugar. The Why is more important than the What.
And so, I believe, it is with this. Using the coin-toss-with-prayer thing to abdicate responsibility and blame God when you make a bad choice? Nope. Playing the lottery and asking God to make your numbers come up? Nope. (The Urim and Thummin thing was the Israelites following the customs of their culture. Just like God is fine with hip-hop worship now, because that’s part of our culture, so it was then. Doesn’t mean we can transport it from then and say it’s a good now.)
However, when there are two equally good (or bad) options, and you have thought and prayed about them, asked advice and still cannot decide, so you’ve committed the decision to God because it is important to you to walk in his ways, and then you’re tossing the coin? Yeah, I think God would be pleased with the attitude, but don’t add it to scripture as ‘a word from the Lord’. It could just be random chance.
The other item of interest, and one I remember with great anguish from my student years, is the concept of The One. ‘If [insert fleece here] then let her be The One the LORD has chosen.’ (capitals mine)
This was a question of great concern amongst the twenty-somethings. How do you know if this one is The One? And what happens if God sends The One, say, visiting my church, and I am away that weekend seeing a friend? Or what if I was supposed to go away that weekend because God had sent The One to my friend’s church and I was supposed to meet them there?
Seriously, you could tie yourself in knots bigger than a boxer’s biceps trying to second-guess God like this!
Eventually, I came to the conclusion that God is perfectly able to cope with my having God-given free will, and that my free will may lead to possibly not ever meeting that guy or girl. But it’s not a problem. God does not just have a Plan A; there’s Plan B, Plan C, Plan D, … Plan W, Plan X … , and being God, all his plans are just as good as the others. I’m probably so far off the end of the alphabet that I’m on Unicode characters now. Plan @ is lookin’ good!
When we consider the servant’s choice of Rebekah, we can see that he had a sensibly pragmatic approach to God’s guidance. In the same vein as Cromwell’s ‘Trust in God and keep your powder dry’, he asked for God’s help, and then did some thing reasonable. (We can’t use God as a safety net when we chuck ourselves off tall buildings, as Jesus tried to explain once). He was told to find a bride from Abraham’s relatives, so he went to ‘the town of Nahor’, where most people would be of the same extended family. He was looking for a young woman, so he went to the place where the young women congregate, at the time they would be there. He picked out a pretty one, then checked to make sure she was good-natured. That’s all the boxes ticked, job done! He made sure she was a reasonable fit, then left the rest to God.
And ‘reasonable fit’, I think, is good enough. No person, no job, no course, no housemate, no house, no friend, no church is ever going to be a ‘perfect fit’, no matter what ‘Sleepless in Seattle’ may tell us. Some people, some jobs, some churches might be a better fit than others, even as far as ‘a darn good fit’ if we’re lucky, but once we’ve got a ‘reasonable fit’, the rest is more to do with knocking off my rough edges than smoothing them off someone or something else.
I expect Isaac and Rebekah had their ups and downs, like everyone, and they will have been helped by not having the unrealistic photo-shopped image of relationships that commercial and social media feed to us daily. We can waste valuable time and heart-ache looking for perfection in this imperfect world. A Good One is a better model than The Only One, I’d say.
But without The One, we’d have to get rid of rom-coms, Lord of the Rings and The Matrix, so maybe I can cope with it for fantasy. Just not in reality.
Where do I need to adapt to be a better fit?
Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67 New International Version
So he said, “I am Abraham’s servant. The LORD has blessed my master abundantly, and he has become wealthy. He has given him sheep and cattle, silver and gold, male and female servants, and camels and donkeys. My master’s wife Sarah has borne him a son in her old age, and he has given him everything he owns. And my master made me swear an oath, and said, ‘You must not get a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, in whose land I live, but go to my father’s family and to my own clan, and get a wife for my son.’
“When I came to the spring today, I said, ‘LORD, God of my master Abraham, if you will, please grant success to the journey on which I have come. See, I am standing beside this spring. If a young woman comes out to draw water and I say to her, “Please let me drink a little water from your jar,” and if she says to me, “Drink, and I’ll draw water for your camels too,” let her be the one the LORD has chosen for my master’s son.’
“Before I finished praying in my heart, Rebekah came out, with her jar on her shoulder. She went down to the spring and drew water, and I said to her, ‘Please give me a drink.’ “She quickly lowered her jar from her shoulder and said, ‘Drink, and I’ll water your camels too.’ So I drank, and she watered the camels also.
“I asked her, ‘Whose daughter are you?’
“She said, ‘The daughter of Bethuel son of Nahor, whom Milkah bore to him.’
“Then I put the ring in her nose and the bracelets on her arms, 48 and I bowed down and worshiped the LORD. I praised the LORD, the God of my master Abraham, who had led me on the right road to get the granddaughter of my master’s brother for his son. Now if you will show kindness and faithfulness to my master, tell me; and if not, tell me, so I may know which way to turn.”
So they called Rebekah and asked her, “Will you go with this man?”
“I will go,” she said.
So they sent their sister Rebekah on her way, along with her nurse and Abraham’s servant and his men. And they blessed Rebekah and said to her,
“Our sister, may you increase
to thousands upon thousands;
may your offspring possess
the cities of their enemies.”
Then Rebekah and her attendants got ready and mounted the camels and went back with the man. So the servant took Rebekah and left.
Now Isaac had come from Beer Lahai Roi, for he was living in the Negev. He went out to the field one evening to meditate, and as he looked up, he saw camels approaching. Rebekah also looked up and saw Isaac. She got down from her camel and asked the servant, “Who is that man in the field coming to meet us?”
“He is my master,” the servant answered. So she took her veil and covered herself.
Then the servant told Isaac all he had done. Isaac brought her into the tent of his mother Sarah, and he married Rebekah. So she became his wife, and he loved her; and Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death.
New International Version (NIV)
Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
References & Credits
Byzantine mosaic, Rebecca waters Abraham’s camels – The Cathedral of Monreale, Palermo ,Sicily