On the Road

“Clearing,” 14×18 Oil, © Lynn Abbott

© 2015 Lynn Abbott

One of my all-time favorite literary lines was penned by J.R.R. Tolkien and attributed by his memorable character Frodo Baggins to his uncle Bilbo:  “‘It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door,’ he used to say. ‘You step into the Road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to.'”

Certainly, my life journey has taken me a great many places I never anticipated.  Like Bilbo, I’ve had a few unexpected journeys although I can’t say that I’ve ever met an elf or fought a literal dragon.

Of course, when I was a collegian, I had my life’s itinerary mapped out.  My own happy hobbit life would follow a predictable pattern.  I settled on a major, and dreamed of my career path.  I plotted my financials.

I had things well planned. I had calculated everything… included all the important variables in the equation.  However, I did not bank on the power of my infinite God to change my course.

Abba apparently is not only in the business of creating but also of rearranging.

I suspect this is the reason that in much the same way as Gandalf surprised Bilbo in Tolkien’s classic, adventures seem to seek me out despite my best efforts to avoid them.

I remember telling friends and family that I intended to relish every moment of my three-week visit to Europe with my aunt, uncle and cousin.  After all, it was highly unlikely that a financially strapped, young graduate would ever travel.

And yet, ten years later, I accepted a position as a writing instructor at an international institution just outside of London.

No one was more surprised than I.

Let’s face it… I’m a homebody hobbit.  And teaching overseas introduced an entire battalion of challenges.

Don’t tell me that Abba doesn’t have a sense of humor. He paired this homebody with an adventurer… for life.

Evidently, I learn best on the road.

And since my husband can never get his fill of adventure, I have learning opportunities aplenty.  He must be a little nomadic at heart because he becomes restless when there are no travels pending.

So, out the door, I go.  Onto the road, I hesitantly step.  The road rises to meet me; the grand journeys begin. But as all pilgrims soon discover, life on the road not only involves danger but it also includes a good many personal failures.

Stepping out means leaving all things predictable.  We exchange fireside fellowship for steep climbs and foggy valleys. And to be quite frank, I’m not a fan of either the difficult or the uncertain.

I think, perhaps, that Sarai felt as I do.  I often wonder what kind of response she gave Abram when he announced that God, little known to her at the outset, had called them to a country she had never heard of.

Did she roll her eyes and say, “Oy vey, there he goes again…  That crazy husband of mine with his outlandish imagination is chasing dreams once more”?

Nevertheless, despite any misgivings she may have had, Sarai packed their bags, and together, they hit the road:  Canaan or bust.

I’m sure the expedition seemed endless.  She may have wondered if they would ever reach their destination, if they would ever settle.  At the very least, they both probably longed for the comforts of Ur.

After all, nomadic life had its ups and a great many downs.

As did their faith.  Their quest repeatedly tested their convictions.

I tend to conveniently skip that part of their story. I’d rather read the happy ending…

In light of the Genesis account of Abram’s obedient faith offering, it’s easy to lose track of Abram’s humanity.  Focused on his victory, we crown him saint and forget his misadventures along the way.

Yup.  We fall victim to back row comparisons. Sitting in that unobtrusive pew, we observe the faith of others. And our own faith rarely seems to measure up to our rose-colored expectations.

On countless occasions,  I have wished that my own faith journey had mimicked their obviously successful and unquestionably spiritual lives.

Yet, while such comparisons plague me, the story of Abram and Sarai both encourages and reminds me that even the great father of faith waffled. Regularly.

Actually, Abram’s tendency to second-guess really should come as no surprise.  His ability to see the future was as limited as any other human being living before or after him.

Certainly, our faith’s itinerary doesn’t follow a simple thoroughfare. The inevitable bends in the road require steadfast trust.

Abba didn’t tell me the details of my life’s adventure beforehand.  If He had, I might have run away in Jonah-like fashion.  As it is, when I confront obstacles or when the terrain becomes difficult, I start to second-guess the road taken.

Apparently, Abram and Sarai did the same.  In spite of God’s promise that Abram’s descendents would become a “great nation,”  Abram frequently feared for his life.

I suppose that had he carefully considered it, he would have realized that God understood the necessity of his survival.  In order to fulfill such a promise, God certainly had a plan to preserve Abram’s life.

But fear is never reasonable, is it?

Not long after Abram arrived in Canaan, a famine devastated the land.

Sarai probably sighed when Abram announced it was time to pack again. This time, Egypt was their destination. They would find food there.

However, Egypt was unfamiliar territory.  The unexpected or unanticipated loomed.  Who knew what dangers lurked?

For this reason, Abram suggested to Sarai that as they traveled, their marriage should remain secret.

God had promised numerous descendants, but just in case, Abram decided to play it safe. He’d help God out a little.

After all,  Sarai must bear the promised child.  And he had to survive in order to father that child.

Since Abram feared the Egyptians might murder him in order to marry her,  Sarai agreed to the scheme.

As Abram anticipated, Pharoah did become romantically interested in the beautiful Sarai.  Sarai soon found herself in Pharoah’s court. Now what? Abram’s fear had created a tangled mess.

When Abba intervened, Pharoah confronted Abram, and Sarai was returned unscathed.

Of course, that should have been the end of that. But I guess I’m not the only one who frequently needs a second go-around to fully grasp life’s lessons.

Abram’s anxieties make an encore performance in Genesis 20.

I suppose few would blame him.  Despite the fact that Sarai and Abram were now advanced in years, Sarai’s beauty still radiated.  She obviously received many a second glance.

So when Abram returned to Canaan, fear trumped faith once more, and despite the significance of his new God-given name, Abraham (father of many nations), he doubted Abba’s covenant.

“She is my sister,” he said.

Once more, God intervened.  Through a dream, Abimelech received warning: “You are as good as dead because of the woman you have taken; she is a married woman.”

In this way, God protected Abimelech from unintentional sin, and after Abraham’s faith fiasco cleared up, God blessed Abimelech.

At this point,  Abraham and Sarah should have been convinced that God would keep his promise.  Any doubts should have dissipated.

Yet, waiting on God does not come easily to fallen humanity.  Abraham and Sarah dreamed and schemed over and over again.

Who can forget their Ishmael project? Or the disastrous results of that detour?

Yes, even Abraham ran ahead of Abba. The hero of faith entertained doubt.  Like so many of us, he had his ups, downs and round-abouts.

I, too, get caught on the ‘go-round of fear and doubt.  As a result, I replay my errors again and again…”Same song, second verse…a little louder and a little worse.”

Abraham, however, gives me hope.  Abba gave him supreme grace.  Hebrews 11 does not list a one of Abraham’s failures.

Instead, we read of Abraham’s faith and obedience.

By faith…

Abraham obeyed and went to Canaan.

He made his home in the promised land.

He trusted God’s promise of an heir.

By faith…

He entrusted his only son to Abba.

He believed God could raise Isaac from the dead.

By faith.

Yet, the Genesis account reveals that Abraham and Sarah wasted a lot of time and energy trying to figure the journey out for themselves.

Abraham faltered and connived.

Sarah schemed.

And Abraham sullied his pilgrimage.

Sarah even laughed when God promised a child.

As an alien in the land, Abraham frequently leaned on his own understanding.

For this reason, Abraham had much to regret.  Had there been a back pew, I suspect he would have crawled into that spot.

He may have compared his behavior to what he knew it ought to have been.   Perhaps, that is the reason that when God announced impending judgement for Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham petitioned so earnestly on behalf of Lot and family.

Abraham likely felt responsible.

He may have blamed himself for being a “poor example” of faith.  Lot had observed Uncle Abram’s schemes.  And Lot had play it safe, choosing the financially secure path offered by city living.

It’s easy to self-condemn.

But Hebrews 11 tells another story.  Abba looks at His child with love and grace.  He honored Abraham’s faith.

“As far as the east is from the west, so far He removed our transgressions from us,” the Psalmist wrote, (Psalm 103:12).

Abraham’s failures met forgiveness by grace and through faith.

Of course, Abba always knows what awaits us around the next bend.  And He gently and graciously leads us to a deeper and deeper faith walk.

I doubt I’ll ever be a hero like Abraham or even Bilbo.

But I relate to Abraham’s journey. My faith certainly wobbles.  Time and again, I gravitate toward shortcuts and attempt to secure God’s promises. I long to speed the process and write my happily ever after.

I impatiently make a mess of things.

I’m thankful, though, that my omniscient, heavenly Father graciously redirects me.  In addition, He gives me enough light to make the next step.

He not only knows the best routes but He also sees my journey in its entirety. He’s already written the end of the story in His Book of Life.

Without a doubt, there will be days when the journey seems too much for you and me.  Sometimes, the road  will sweep us off our feet.

But Abraham’s life story brings this comfort:  God’s covenant with you and me never fails.   He never forgets His promises.  He remains our constant in a world of unpredictable.

In fact, whether we climb steep mountains, enter foggy valleys or simply grumble over pebbles in our shoes, Abba’s love reassures us. He understands our longing for home.

Again, Psalm 103 promises, “As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust.”

Yes, in the end, grace writes our life stories.

Although we live as nomads in this world, Abba has promised us a home beautiful beyond imagination, “the city with foundations, who architect and builder is God,” (Hebrews 11:10).

True, Abraham stumbled.  Abraham doubted.  Yet, he became a faith hero.

There’s hope for you and me.

God is already celebrating the long-haul rather than recalling our temporary set-backs.   Bilbo was right: “Roads go ever, ever on…”  And for most of us, including Abraham, that’s a very good thing.

Indeed. Faith grows on the road.

“I am the LORD you God, who teaches you what is best for you, who directs you in the way you should go,” Isaiah 48:17b