When I was on camp teams, we traveled around in a big 15-passenger van with our school's logo on the side. You may or may not have been to many church camps, but as a general rule, they're out in the middle of nowhere. You don't drive down the interstate until you see a giant sign that says, "So-and-so Christian Camp: EXIT HERE ---->" No, you usually need to get off the highway and then traverse miles and miles of little dirt roads until you see the name of the camp etched into a log on the side of the road, and then you know you've reached your destination.
Fortunately for my camp team, Sy had one of those GPS navigation systems attached to a suction cup that we stuck to our windshield. I had never really been around one of those before, and it amazed me. We would be driving through the desolation of Wyoming, and if we got hungry, we would just tell the GPS that our stomachs were grumbling, and it would tell us where the nearest Wendy's was, all in a courteous British accent. I also couldn't believe that the GPS knew about some of the roads it took us on. When we were in Oregon, it sent us down a nearly invisible gravel strip that basically went off of a cliff. I even had to get out of the van and walk ahead a ways to determine if our van could handle the incline or if it would tip over and fall into the ocean. No one in the world knew this little gravel road existed, yet our electronic guide was in on the secret.
Most people do not like to be unsure what the road ahead of them will be like. Some people do, and they have no problem just picking up and going, without being sure where they're going. If they drive a VW van, we call them hippies. If they carry their possessions in a handkerchief at the end of a stick, we call them hobos. But for the rest of us, we like to have a clear idea of where we're going and what lies along the road, both in travel and in life. High school counselors tell kids to create their own 5-year and 10-year plans. People are expected to know where they're going to go to college, where they're going to live, what job they'll have, what they'll name their pet dog, and where they'll retire, and they are supposed to figure all this out when they're 16 years old.
Whenever I tell my testimony, I tell how I thought I had my life figured out when I was in 8th grade. I wanted to be a journalist, so I was going to write for the high school newspaper, then go to college for journalism, and eventually find myself writing for TIME Magazine with a row of Pulitzers on my mantle. Then when I was at CIY before my freshman year, I felt like God wanted me to go into ministry, so I scratched my previous plan. And since that time, I've usually felt pretty good about myself, forsaking my own dreams in order to follow God and all that. It's a very heroic, courageous lifestyle, you know?
At times, however, I wonder if I still try to maintain too much control over my own life. I try to plan everything out, saying "This summer I'll do an internship here, and next summer I'll do an internship there, and then I'll get my own ministry and do these activities and take these trips, and then I'll go back to school, and then...." And while some planning isn't altogether a bad thing, we need to remember that God may not lead us according to those plans. He may have something totally different for us, and more often than not, he doesn't explain to us everything that lies in store before we set out. He just tells us to follow. It's like when God tells Abram to go to Canaan. He doesn't really tell him where he's going, and he doesn't lay out everything that lies along the road. He just tells Abram to go, and Abram faithfully does it.
I watched a Mark Driscoll sermon last night about the angel Gabriel telling Mary that she would give birth to Jesus. Mary is a teenager from a tiny village who's engaged to Joseph, and Gabriel shows up and tells her that she's going to have a baby, even though she's a virgin. I imagine that wasn't in her 5-year plan. It meant that Joseph could divorce her, which would leave her both ostracized and financially insecure. It meant that for the rest of her life, people would whisper about her and her perceived promiscuity. It meant her son would be laughed at and gossiped about. But in spite of all that, Mary answers, "I am the Lord's servant. May it be to me as you have said" (Lk. 1:38).
Mary didn't know exactly where God's call on her life would lead. She knew it would be difficult, but details were scant. But she's okay with that. She follows God, trusting that he'll work everything out. I've been reading The Fellowship of the Ring, which is the first book of The Lord of the Rings. If you've read it or seen the movie, you know that Frodo and his companions begin a quest to destroy a ring, but they have to travel a great distance to do it. Before they start out, Elrond the Elf says, "I can foresee very little of your road; and how your task is to be achieved I do not know." Later, Gandalf is describing the way that the group needs to travel at first, and Merry asks, "Yes, and where then?" Gandalf replies, "To the end of the journey--in the end. We cannot look too far ahead."
That's kind of what it's like with God. He doesn't show us the whole map at once. He guides us in little parts. He gives us a picture of the end, but everything between here and there is often veiled. Because of that, our own plans often prove meaningless. Our plans are like paintings that we create, but then God takes the painting, cuts it up, rearranges the pieces, and puts it all back together, and somehow it looks better when he's done with it than it was before.
So in the meantime, we can't let ourselves freak out over the fact that the future seems unclear. Now that I'm an upperclassman at college, my future looms large over my head. But the truth is that I don't know where I'll be or what I'll be doing in ten years. I don't really even know what I'll be doing in one year, necessarily. I think the best thing for us to do is to wake up every morning asking how we can obey and serve God with our day, and to ask the same thing in every situation, decision, and interaction we face throughout the day. Because God will guide, and we just need to follow. He may not show us the whole path, but he promises to get us to the end.
While I've been writing this post, I've been watching basketball in my basement. Every once in a while, a commercial will come on for Kay Jewelers. It shows a man and woman looking out the window during a thunderstorm. There is a loud crash of thunder, and the woman turns around into the man's arms, and he says comfortingly, "I'm right here..." and then he pulls out a jewelry box with a necklace inside and concludes, "...and I always will be." At the end of the commercial, the woman wraps her arms around his neck and says, "Don't let go....ever." And then the guy gets a kiss. Lesson learned: If I start carrying jewelry around in my pocket, then I'll have more opportunities to pull it out and say some cheesy line, and then girls will have more opportunities to fall in love with me.
I hope you all have the most wonderful Christmas ever. I hope you get all of the things you want, that you have a great time spent with family and friends, and that you remember that Jesus loves you more than you can ever understand. If I know you, then I'm very thankful for your friendship, and you mean a lot to me and I look forward to the next time we see each other. If I don't know you, then that's a shame, because I'm sure we'd be chums.