Surprised by ‘the Abraham effect’


Kathy Berken
This happens to me all the time, and you’d think that I would be used to it by now. But am I? No. I am not. As my late friend Lee Nagel used to say when I’d tell him yet another story about what I call “the Abraham effect,” he’d shake his head and ask, “Why are you so surprised that God works like this? By now you would


think that the amazement would have subsided.”
So, what’s “the Abraham effect”? You know the story of Abraham and Isaac, where God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son, and just as he raised the knife, an angel appeared and told him to spare Isaac. A ram emerged from the bushes, which Abraham used for the sacrifice (Gen. 22:1-19). The same thing happens to me, but it’s never quite as dramatic. But, still. Rather than sacrifice a person, I often feel asked to sacrifice something precious such as my time or other resources, and then as soon as I have made the offer, circumstances change and the sacrifice is no longer needed.
It happened two times today. The first was at lunch with a colleague. I thought I was taking her out for her birthday, so when I picked up the check, she took it away from me and said she was taking me out because this was a working lunch. Amazing. Then I returned a very overdue college library book for my niece and decided that I would pay the fine for her. The library aide said it was $5, and just then, another aide walked over and said that the fine was waived because of a new policy. “We just want our books back,” she said. “It’s easier to waive fines for most items.” Wow, I know, $5 isn’t that much, and the $30 for lunch would not have broken the bank, so feeling the Abraham effect at work, I couldn’t help but smile.
I went to the bookstore and found several items on sale to give as Christmas gifts. The total of the gift items? Thirty-five dollars (yes, lunch plus the library fine). I got home and in my mailbox was a check for some work I did last month for, you guessed it, $35. Amazing.
How many times have I offered to go out of my way for someone, only to learn that they made different plans and did not need my help? More than I can count. I offered to help a friend move last year, which would have been a challenge for me since I was just finishing my cancer treatments and I tired easily and could not lift a lot, but I know that when you move, there are always many lightweight things to carry. I had mixed feelings because of my health but I really wanted to help my friend. After I made the offer, she laughed and said, “Oh, not to worry. My daughter runs a moving business, and she is giving me her company’s services as a gift.” Amazing.
When I moved from The Arch in Clinton in 2009, I decided to donate my recliner to a friend after I could not sell it. Of course, the donation was the better choice, but I also could have used the $400 for books for grad school, which was starting in two weeks. The week I began classes, I received a letter with a check from a faraway friend who wanted to help me with school expenses, something we never discussed and which I never expected in a million years. The check was for $400.
Isn’t it amazing how God works when you answer the call?
(Kathy Berken has a master’s degree in theology from St. Catherine University, St. Paul, Minn. She lived and worked at The Arche, L’Arche in Clinton 1999-2009 and is author of “Walking on a Rolling Deck: Life on the Ark (stories from The Arch).”)

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