[We come to the final summary post in our series on travelling to Unreached/Unengaged peoples. We’ve already looked at 5 practical reasons why I think many unengaged peoples remain unengaged. Number one was largely informative. Numbers two, three and four were all problems that I haven’t found discussed in many missiological circles. And number five was a reflection on my own heart and the equal dangers of that. Finally today we come to the underlying cause of all of them.]
What is it that makes the traveller, travel?
What is it that captures our hearts and makes us lust after more, even though we know we’ll never have our fill?
Something selective in our memory that has us day-dreaming about the ecstasy that has gone before, and forgetting all the dull moments that came with it along the way?
Something able to put aside all the problems of the world, and any connection to any other part of reality, and lose ourselves in the freedom of jumping from the mundane and messy realities, through the picture-perfect travel brochure scene that was lying on our kitchen table, into a Narnia-like fantasy, without loss to anything upon our return.
But how then does this ever end? Surely, with so much to explore, and so little at stake, we’d be forever adventurers together?
At what moment does the thirty-something-year-old wake up and think “I don’t want to explore those far flung paradise shores” or “A day at the office seems like a wonderful idea” or even more incredibly “oh, how I would love to have some screaming, pooping little creatures running round my legs, creating havoc, while I try to make breakfast for them, wash their messy clothes, change their nappies and get ready for work all at once“!
But for most, it seems to happen. Our desire to feel at home and connected somewhere eventually wins over.
Perhaps those moments where the loneliness of travel finally gives us its final blow. The moment we really need someone by our side, and we turn round in one of the world’s most stunning places, to find no-one there to share it with.
Maybe those times when family or friends are suffering or growing old back home and we’ve missed special moments with them.
Or just the lack of connectedness. You have friends and people you’ve met travelling in every corner of the globe, can speak into soo many cultures and languages to a small degree. And yet ultimately, those friends who are there for you every day to laugh until you cry and enjoy wine into the small hours of the morning?
Even moreso when you suffer. The real test of friendship. The places where older, wiser heads who have suffered before us, can be phoned at 3am and just sit with us in silence.
They’re back in places where the WiFi automatically connects when you walk into their home. It needn’t be “home” in one geographical place like in the old days, but still somewhere where your shoulders fall an inch as you relax with the familiar sights, sounds and smells of it, and where google maps can be firmly kept in your pocket.
But the trouble is that neither travel or feeling at home will ultimately leave you happy. They will both eat you, if ordered alone as your main course.
And the fires of desire in your heart won’t be put out by preaching a guilty message at yourself either. “I ought to really grow up and take some responsibility in life”. Somehow your heart doesn’t quite buy it. It sounds, well, unappetising and ugly. Like pouring cold water on the embering beach fire when the warmth of the sun has already set. It leaves you shivering, and exposed.
Combined with the mundane, messy realities of home life, you come in a full circle, and wonder why you stopped travelling at all? Was I insane?
And it’s why the opposite of desire isn’t responsibility. And the answer to unreached peoples isn’t “to care more” or tell me over and over again to “stop making it your idol”. Desire isn’t crushed primarily by cold commands, regardless of whether I agree with them or not. We found that out with Odysseus not so long ago.
Surely what I need is contentment, regardless of whether I travel or not. Contentment, whether I am going to unreached people groups personally or not. Somehow feed me contentment from when I wake up, til when I go to sleep, and desire will not consume me.
But what then of ambition – crushed by this new joy of being content? Won’t that give us tame lives that care nothing for travel? If I was content to start with, I wouldn’t have left my front door! It seems just as bad as responsibility, if not worse, as it seeks to trample on my desire, not just to take my energy away to other things!
Well, yes. So let me clarify. There is a contentment that will work, but it’s quite unique and fanciful. If it were true, it would be quite the fairytale.
A contentment because one realises that this world is an undeserved gift to us. The fact you were born (most likely) in the first world. The fact you were born into an area or class which gave you a chance to travel. The fact that health and life gave you freedom to roam this planet. The fact that none of this was your right.
A contentment also because you realise you have everything life has to offer. The Maker of the universe calls you to come and live with Him, united with Him forever. Free! And you’ve said yes. And you’ve realised that no matter what happens on this earth, no matter what He calls you to do, or where He calls you to go, you’re content. Because ultimately you’ve got Him. What good is having the gift, if you don’t know the giver? How much better must the giver be to give such good gifts? If the infinitely chaotic oceans rhythmically pounding on the golden beach shores satisfy us for weeks on end – how much more their maker? If the diversity of such a funny species as humans are, baffles you and causes you to wonder – how much more our diverse yet united God?
A contentment ultimately because, although truly satisfied in Him, He gives us gifts connected to His very fabric. A perfect New Heavens and a New Earth to enjoy one day, should we trust His (reliable) words and history’s patterns which have been building towards it. A beautiful earthiness to explore, not just some harps on clouds in the sky. A place where we’ll be forever content, yet always growing in perfection.
How does this not remove my desire? Well it gives me perspective. It gives me reason to enjoy His creation, yet reminds me there’s better to come. It gives me desire to travel to unreached people groups but contentedness that it’s not the be all and end all of life.
It gives context to desire without stamping it out.
It allows the embers of the fire to be fanned into flame more on the beach, but not to ravage as a bushfire, harming all around.
It lets us enjoy travel, and weep at Unreached People Groups for what they are: gifts that our Good Father allows us to partake of, with Him. It fans into flame our love for both and increases our right desires about them.
It’s a fairytale that if true, speaks both to our minds and our hearts. It warms them from our very core. And it’s beautiful! The fairytale with a very real “happily ever after” ending. The reason why all other fairytales dreamed and echoed it. Like shadows of the flame, flickering on the beach. They’re there to show us that a real flame exists.
“because of the tender mercy of our God,
by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven
79 to shine on those living in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the path of peace.’”
(Luke eyewitness account of Jesus’ life, chapter one)