One fall morning, when I was a little boy of eight years old, I took it upon myself to leave the house and explore the vast pastures and woods of our farm. In the past my daddy and granddaddy walked every acre with me, but this was the first time I struck out on my own and by myself – and without the consent or knowledge of anyone else! I traipsed directly to the creek that dissected our land, found a narrow pass and jumped over to the other side. I figured that soon I should be climbing a familiar hill that would overlook the pastures with the dairy cows grazing on one side and the creek bottoms on the other. Instead I came to another creek – this was a surprise – and it seemed to me it was on the wrong side. Then and there it slowly occurred to me that I was not exactly lost, but rather confused. I had walked in a circle.
For the last century researchers have puzzled over why when we walk we generally do not travel in a straight line, especially without a fixed point. This is also true for swimming and driving a car. Without a fixed point we tend to travel in circles. Scientists and engineers can put a man on the moon, but there is still not a good answer as to why we travel in circles, even when we think we are going straight ahead. By the way, I do not recommend you drive a car blindfolded to test this theory out, but I am told it is true.
In this life, we wander. We make plans, draw up maps, put forth sincere intentions, but as we journey along we inevitably take twists and turns and sometimes move in circles. A disappointment here, a surprise there, an interruption along the way, and before we know it we find that we are just wandering around.
Has your life turned out exactly like you planned it or thought it would go? Of course not. In this life, we wander. No matter how much we plan, prepare, and pray, life is not a straight line, a sure path, or a fixed way. Physicists speak of the Theory of Indeterminacy (or chaos theory). Theologians just call it life. We are all living it and if you feel as though sometimes you are going in circles you are not alone.
This is the story of God’s treasured people called Israel. It describes their life in the wilderness. Not only for forty years did they wander around, but for all its history they have wandered. The author of Hebrews describes the faithful of Israel as “…strangers and foreigners on the earth.” (11:13) It is as if they were born and exist to wander.
We are a wandering people too. The Missio Dei – the mission of God – is not about following a plan to prevent the wandering. Rather it is to embrace this wandering life, wherever it takes us with all its surprises, disappointments and interruptions, and to do so trusting in the presence and provision of God, who has wandered into our way.
My hope for the church is that we grow more and more intentional in meeting people where they are in their wandering. This means allowing space for their questions and room for their searching. This is not about unqualified relativism, but a trust that when we seek, God may be found. “When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29.13).
Peace be with you,