I do not own a GPS.
Furthermore, I do not want to own a GPS. I think they make me dumber. There is just something about plotting your own course that sharpens the navigational acumen.
That being said, I got lost last week.
During my marathon excursion on the eastern seaboard, I was leaving Virginia for North Carolina and found myself an hour out of the way headed in the wrong direction. Turns out, I had missed an exit about 60 miles back. Chalk it up to distraction; chalk it up to having a lot on my mind lately; chalk it up to stupidity. Whatever the case, I made a wrong turn and it affected the rest of my journey.
I have been thinking about direction a lot these last few weeks. Not road directions (obviously) but life directions.
If you are familiar with the movie Castaway, you may remember how it ends. Tom Hanks is at a crossroads, four roads winding off into the distance as far as you can see. The movie ends with him trying to make a decision about which one to take. I think I can relate to that.
When my plane landed, I thought I had a plan. If I am honest, I was probably a little too proud of the fact that I had my return figured out. At the same time, I had friends who were returning from the field and had no clue about their next steps. I did not see myself in that boat. I kind of felt sorry for them.
I spent a lot of time thinking through how life would look when I returned. I knew I would be going to seminary, hoping to start my PhD. I was planning out all of the details of school and a new life, looking into job options, thinking about where I would live, and planning what kind of ministry I would be working with when I returned. I had started building my future in my mind and all the pieces fit.
It did not take long for all that planning to dissolve into uncertainty. I knew things would be different when I returned to the States. After two years, I knew that many of my friends and family had changed. I also knew that I had changed, and that the people to whom I was closest would have to relearn me. What I did not count on was having changed so much that even I would have to relearn me.
The discovery I have made since I returned is that I no longer know myself.
Before this post spirals down into ramblings by an emotionally disturbed man, might I add that I am pleased with what I am finding. I feel like these changes are indeed growth. However, all that I thought was seems to be no longer. Nothing from my old life seems to fit anymore, including my clothes (I dropped a few pounds in Africa). Habits, hobbies, relationships, all the things I thought I would return to no longer fit the way I expected.
And right now, I am Tom Hanks at the crossroads. I have returned to a home that is no longer home. I find myself striking out on a completely new journey, and it scares me.
In looking for comfort at this particularly troubling time, I turned to the pages of God’s word. There I was reminded of Abraham and his journey. The author of Hebrews summed it up well when he wrote, “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going.”
Abraham received a word from the Lord, and it told him to go. It did not tell him where, it just told him to go. What is more, he went. Now that is gutsy. Abraham picked up his wife, family, and all he had (which would have included servants, livestock, and all the jazz) and began to move toward a land that God would show him. Now to be certain, he knew a general direction. He was headed to Canaan, but by no means had God mailed this man a map.
If that is not a lesson in faith, I do not know what is. But the story gets better.
If you look up the story of Abraham in Genesis, you find the story of a sojourner. He is a man of wandering, and a man who continues to grow in his faith. We find him taking that initial step in Genesis 12, and God blesses. In chapter 15, we see him struggling with the uncertainties of being in a new land with no heir, wondering how he will ever possess this land. God makes a covenant with him, promises an heir, and promises to be faithful. By chapter 16 we see Abraham and Sarah getting impatient with God and taking the issue of posterity into their own hands. Abraham has Ishmael with one of his servants. (The consequences of this decision still ring out in the Middle East today.) In chapter 17, God again promises an heir, and Isaac’s birth is foretold. By chapter 21, he is born.
Then in chapter 22, God does something I still have a hard time wrapping my mind around. He asks Abraham to kill Isaac, to offer him as a sacrifice. Scripture immediately tells us this is a test of Abrahams faithfulness. There is no real question here of God’s character, but it sure does seem that way. I cannot imagine what was going through Abraham’s head. For so long, he had yearned for God to give him this one thing, and now God was telling him to do away with it. Furthermore, it is not like it was an old football jersey, or even a family heirloom, it was a human being. This request makes no sense.
In that position, I imagine I would have wondered why God had asked such a despicable thing of me. I would have questioned the very character of the God I served. Do I want to serve a God that would ask such an atrocious thing? It seems sick.
But that is not what Abraham did. He acted in faith.
The author of Hebrews says this, “By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, ‘Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.’ He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.”
Sometimes God asks us to do things we do not understand. Just ask Abraham (or for that matter, Noah, Moses, Jeremiah, or any other of a long list of those who obeyed). The path that lies in front of us may seem like it is not the best. It may not make the most sense. We may wonder how we got stuck in a situation for which we did not bargain. Nevertheless, we find ourselves in a position of uncertainty, having searched God’s word and come before him in fervent prayer looking for answers. The only thing left to do is step forward in faith, expecting God to remain faithful. This is what it means to have faith.
When the writer of Hebrews said, “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen,” this is what he was talking about.