My stomach tightened. Within an hour two unconnected people had crinkled their noses and doubted my practices in two different areas.

Their thoughts didn’t cause me to doubt my views, but their implied disapproval still felt bad. I wondered why.

The story of Abraham and Ishmael supplied insight. In Genesis 21, Abraham was very distressed because he had to send Ishmael, the son from Sarah’s slave, away. Galatians 4 says Ishmael represents the flesh (human effort) and Isaac, Sarah’s son, represents life in the Spirit.

Abraham had to send Ishmael away because the flesh and the Spirit can’t harmonize. “At that time the son born according to the flesh persecuted the son born by the power of the Spirit. It is the same now,” (Gal. 4:29, NIV).

But it hurt Abraham to send Ishmael away.

What does Ishmael have to do with my discomfort? Ishmael represents our human attempt to gain fulfillment. Pleasing people is my Ishmael. It hurts to let go of approval.

Paul wrote, “Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ,” (Gal. 1:10, NIV). My reaction told me that even though I seek to please God, I still want people’s applause.

Leslie’s Ishmael was her father. After he abandoned the family, her mother kept him away. Leslie grieved the loss of her daddy. Later she realized that painful separation protected her from the harm his abusive, alcoholic behavior would have caused.

God told Abraham not to be distressed over the boy. He would take care of him. Is your Ishmael a destructive pattern or person? Have you sent your Ishmael away, but still feel the discomfort?

It hurts to release someone or something we care about—even though they’re harmful. But we can let go. God will take care of the person or flesh pattern. Let go. He’ll take care of us too.

In adulthood God prompted Leslie to reach out to her dad. He came to faith in Christ shortly before his death. She knows she’ll have an eternity to make up for what they missed on earth.

Like Abraham, I must send my Ishmael away if I am to experience the fullness of God’s life in me. The pain of sending Ishmael away is nothing compared to the agony of keeping him.

Question: How has God helped you let go of your Ishmael?

You can leave a comment by clicking here.


Debbie Wilson

Deborah W. Wilson

Ginny Wilson will be facilitating our women’s summer Bible study, In Light of Eternity by Randy Alcorn. Click here for more information.

Photo by: Moyan Brenn


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  1. Ann Musico

    I love that you called these things “Ishmaels.” I think for me approval and having people like me are definitely Ishmaels. As I’ve gotten older (and wiser) I’ve learned that everyone will not always agree with me (shocker!) but I have to admit it still stings, especially when it’s said in a harsh way.

  2. Tamara Jeans

    Thanks Debbie l needed this!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!:-) 🙂 🙂 🙂

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