It was the summer after my freshman year in college and I was headed to a small town in the middle of nowhere North Carolina to serve as the summer youth worker at a church. Before we were sent out to parts known and unknown, about seventy-five college students had gathered for a week of training. It would be a life changing summer for me but during the training, I was just nervous. In fact, I cried, no weeped, while my best friend hugged me and told me it would be Ok as we were leaving for our respective churches.
Our theme for that week of training was “Going Not Knowing” and focused on the call of Abram. God didn’t give Abram a lot of details, just said to go. God made promises to Abram and told him that his ancestors would be a blessing to the world, and so Abram and Sarai packed up and left. They were going not knowing exactly where they were going, what they would experience along the way, how they would get there, if they would have what they needed along the way. God said go and so they just went.
The scripture for this portion of Abraham’s story was preached in churches around the world this weekend as it is the Old Testament lectionary text. In a meeting with a pastor last week she mentioned she was preparing her sermon for this text. She talked about how she was planning to explore how GPS systems and our phones have changed us. How we hardly ever go anywhere without some tool to tell us where to go.
I was taken back to that first summer of service. The summer of 1995…man, I’m old. And I couldn’t help but think how the world is different now. When we heard that scripture, we still carried maps in our car. I remember when the pastor of the church gave me directions to find the church and at some point referred to “our stoplight.” “Our stoplight” because there was only one at the time.
Today I would have been able to use google maps to find the church. I would have looked up church members and the youth on social media. I would have looked up Bible studies and games online to be prepared for the summer. I would have researched events in the area to be able to make plans for fun trips. But I just went…..
Yesterday I made plans for a work trip in a couple of weeks. I highly researched my hotels, mapped out distances along the way to maximize my travel and minimize the time in the car. I even have a dinner reservation for a place I want to try on Monday night.
I do personality assessments and so I know not everyone plans ahead quite like that but I believe we have all lost of the spirit of getting lost, of wandering, in our culture. We can watch our favorite TV shows when we want. We can order our groceries, our coffee, from an app and have them ready to be picked up when we arrive. My sister recently talked about how on a family vacation, the kids decided they wanted ice cream and so they looked up where to go and were there eating ice cream in some random town, in some random state, in a matter of minutes.
And I just can’t stop thinking about how that affects us spiritually.
Much like with Abram, God still does not work like a GPS. My path in life rarely feels like it is the most efficient. Seasons of waiting have me looking for everything that may be a sign, maybe an answer that the waiting, that the wandering, are over. Just get me to the next point, the next job, the next relationship; send me an alert for what I’m supposed to learning here.
The Bible is full of wandering though. Abram wandered. Moses and the Israelites wandered. Even the many stories of Jesus’ life are about those he encountered while he was traveling.
As much as I love efficiency and planning, I think we need wandering now more than ever. It reminds us to stop and take a look around. I pay more attention to where I am and where I am going when I am not exactly sure where I am. I learn a city quicker when I take time getting lost. I need to wander to pay attention to the people I’m meeting along the way, pay attention to how God is speaking and working. I need to be reminded that no matter how much of my time and travel I can control with my phone, I cannot control the wild and meandering ways of God. There is purpose in the wild and meandering ways.
If you find yourself in the dessert, on a road, and nothing looks familiar, there seems to be no end in sight, put away the phone, the maps, the technology. Focus on the next step in front of you. Pay attention to what is happening around you. Let your wild and meandering God show you the value of feeling lost.