“Travel while you’re young.” I’m trying.
“Don’t miss out on all the beautiful places in the world.” I promise I want to see them as badly as you want me to see them.
“You’re not using your degree.” I know that. But every time I try to apply to something or move abroad to get fluent to use my degree, it never works out.
My ninth or tenth attempt to go abroad long-term recently fell through. I’ve lost count on these disappointments, but this one was close: so close I could almost smell the alpine air and hear the German words flowing past my ears.
Resounding deeply within my heart is the call to stay. It doesn’t make sense, logic screams at me. I’m young. I’m unattached and have no obligations binding me to this location. I have more free time than I’m likely to have for the rest of my life. It’s the perfect time.
However, only the Perfect One really knows the perfect time. As much as it grates against my long-held desires, I have peace about staying.
The Obedience Option
Lord, it feels like you are wasting my life. It feels like I can’t take advantage of my youth. I don’t understand. I want to be abroad exploring this world you’ve made and gaining fluency in foreign languages while I still can, and I want so much more than small-town America life. Being stuck here is maddening and gnaws away at my every last nerve. I’m out of options. . . .
But I still have the option of obedience. Even when everything is going wrong (and has been for months or years), obedience is always an option. Even when everything in me is torn between screaming and crying, reflecting the Savior in obedience is always an option. If God closes the door, and I trust his good purposes, I need not keep banging my head against that door.
As I watch another wonderful opportunity fade into the distance, my heart falls to its knees and cries out, Is obedience just a place where all my dreams go to die? Is your plan for my life only for me to lie broken and tormented amongst the shattered fragments of my hopes and desires?
In these moments, our finite hearts so easily forget the dreadful eternity we’ve been saved from (Luke 13:28). And the glorious eternity we’ve been delivered to (Revelation 21:4). To us who have only experienced time in one way, temporal horizons so easily swallow and distort the horizon we ought to always be pointed toward: Christ and an eternity with him.
In our suffering, through our tears, during our pain, we so easily forget that a place awaits us where all of those aches will dissolve. Even as we have fulfilled desires here, we settle into those comforts and forget that our true Desire awaits to overflow his children’s eternities with his presence.
Dreams That Need to Die
I’ve forgotten that obedience indeed is the place I go to die, crucifying all desires of the flesh as my Savior once did on a cross (Galatians 2:20). How easy it is to forget that my life is not about getting what I want or going where I want!
No matter how harmless those desires may seem, if they overcome my desire for obedience, then they require crucifixion. If I am trying to force them to happen, to control the future by thinking that my plan is the only plan, then I am not only committing idolatry, but also forsaking the words of Paul: “to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21).
Of course, in that instance he was referring to physical death. But death to riches is also gain, for Christ is far more valuable than the world’s weight in gold. Death to popularity is also gain, because Christ is far more satisfying than endless followers. In singleness, death to desire is also gain, because Christ is our True Pursuer. In marriage, death to self-centeredness is also gain, because our hearts take on a clearer image of Christ. And death to travel is also gain, because Christ’s beauty is more breathtaking than all the splendor this world has to offer, a greater adventure than life in the most exotic cultures on earth.
The human heart in every generation is pressured by the outside world to do what it does, succeed like it succeeds, live the life it wants us to live — or we will miss out on truly living. Travel is big right now, and so is delaying adulthood. This combination makes it easy to say, “Where you go, I’ll go,” but it is often much more difficult to say, “Where you stay, I’ll stay.” That means staying even when it’s distressing and painful and lonely.
But only fifty years ago, the easiest route was settling down early and starting a family. The idols of each generation will differ. But obedience by faith in Jesus remains the same: we refuse to bow the knee to all but the one with nail-scarred hands and a torn side. Daniel’s allegiance did not waver those thousands of years ago, and our loyalty ought not waver now in the face of FOMO and YOLO.
I don’t need to twirl in the Alps, or walk the rice paddies of Japan, or explore the wilds of Scotland to be obedient. To love the Lord my God with all my heart, all my mind, and all my strength (Deuteronomy 6:5) I need only to seek his face wherever he has placed me — at the tip of Kilimanjaro or in the rolling hills of midwest America. And in whatever season of heart he has brought to me — be it the driest of deserts or the gloomiest of valleys.
God’s Spirit is a willing guide, ever spurring us onward toward the one to whom all adventures pale in comparison, and in whom all adventures find their fulfillment. Because when all the adventures of this life come to an end, God will remain unsearchable and all-satisfying, the Adventure that never ends.