“Not all those who wander are lost.”
This line of poetry from The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien can be found on basically any gift item you can think of. And it is beautiful and it looks good on coffee mugs and I love it.
But still, it makes me wonder: are we as Christians supposed to be adventurers and wanderers, catching the next train like a hobo in the night, always moving, always waiting for that elusive feeling that we’ve arrived and never quite reaching it?
I think the answer is both yes and no.
In the Psalms, God is a stronghold and a fortress, a rock and a shield. He’s not going anywhere. The righteous man is like a tree planted by streams of water, deeply rooted, grounded, reaching ancient branches up toward the steady sky. There’s a very strong sense of permanence.
On the other hand, Hebrews 11 tells us that God is the God of the wanderers. And that is a beautiful thought for all the twenty-somethings in transition: the ones who don’t quite know what’s next or who they want to become or which place is home. That chapter has always been one of my favorites.
But right in the middle of the stories of tent-dwellers and roaming prophets, there is this promise: “These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland . . . Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.”
We don’t wander because wandering is the best option. We wander because there is something permanent out there, and we’re not quite there yet.
The tabernacle had its day—a pop-up place of worship, never in the same place twice, never quite settled. The restlessness of David to build a permanent place for God to dwell among his people and the joyous praise of Solomon at the dedication of the long-awaited temple show that need for permanence.
But the temple was destroyed. The land was abandoned, the people were sent into exile far away from home, and the covenant echoed in the silence between the testaments like a broken dream. The promise of secure, unchanging home for God’s people had failed.
And then Jesus came, and with him came the hope that maybe, maybe God saw and knew and cared after all. Maybe he always had.
Writing to those same disillusioned people, the Jews, the author of Hebrews emphasizes permanence over and over again: Jesus is a priest from a line that will not die out. God does not—cannot—lie. “We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul.”
I think we need this reminder again, for our generation.
We know how to climb ladders and go on adventures and set goals and change the world. People are always telling us that we were built for those very things. The generation on fire, like Katniss in a blaze of revolutionary passion, fighting for social change and connection and progress. We know how to move.
But, oh, can someone teach us how to stay?
How to stay invested in friendships when the other person is going through a hard time or is too needy or doesn’t seem to be giving us very much in return.
How to live and love within a local church instead of depending on teaching siphoned off various podcasts and seminars.
How to stay committed to marriages that are no longer working out the way we’d planned.
How to show up to a ministry even when we aren’t in the mood and the excitement has worn off, how to read the Bible even when we get absolutely nothing out of it, how to decide that a place will be home because, at least for now, we are here and there must be a reason for that. There must be.
Yes, of course there’s a place for semesters abroad, impulsive decisions, experiencing other churches and worship styles, the ending of harmful relationships. There is a time for leaving.
But there is also a time for staying, and I think we forget that sometimes. We check our phones for affirmation and fear commitment and worship a tumbleweed God who only shows up when our emotions do. Our generation, I think, lives with packed-up suitcases, ready to move on at any time.
And that, to me, seems very sad. We are not a hobbit generation, the cozy and complacent, who needs a pack of dwarves to drag them out to a calling beyond the Shire. We need to find the Shire that we’re supposedly fighting for.
Do you feel it too, the pull to be busy for God, to achieve and network and constantly keep in motion? Despite what our culture—even our Christian culture—tells us, it’s not the only way to live.
Why don’t you stay a little while?