Run to the End of the Highway
Over the past 6 months or so, I’ve read quite a bit from the book of the Imitation of Christ, by Thomas A Kempis (c. 1380-1471). I underlined a couple of passages of particular interest to me:
“Run hither and thither, you shall find no rest, but in humble subjection under the rule of a superior. Fancy and continual changing of places have deceived many.” (Book 1, chapter 9).
“Our sensual desires draw us to rove abroad; but when the hour is past, what do you carry home but heaviness of conscience and distraction of heart? A merry going forth brings often a sad returning, and a merry evening makes a sad morning. So all carnal joy enters gently, but in the end bites and stings to death.
What can you see elsewhere, which you see not here?” (Book 1, chapter 20).
“Few grow better by sickness; as also they who wander much on pilgrimage, seldom thereby become holy.” (Book 1, chapter 23).
I wonder if Thomas A Kempis would have liked this song!
I've discovered many more references to this topic. Here are a few:
- Proverbs 27:8 says, “As a bird that wanders from her nest, so is a man that wanders from his place.” That seems like a pretty dumb thing for a bird to do, after finishing all the work that goes into building her home. Is it any less foolish for a man?
- Francois de La Rochefoucauld (1630-1680), whose professed religion I do not know, said “When a man finds no peace within himself, it is useless to seek it elsewhere.”
- Tommy Shaw, of the rock band Styx, sang in his 1983 song Just Get Through This Night, “Don’t you know there’s no place on this earth where you can run to escape the pain of a broken heart? It’s useless to spend the time it takes you to try.”
I’m sure it wouldn’t be hard to find more quotes by men and women throughout history who had similar things to say.
Run to the End of the Highway was written in 1974 by Keith Green (1953-1982) and his wife Melody. I know from reading about Keith that he ran away from home a couple of times in his youth, but ended up coming home again. And eventually his honest seeking led him to the answer he was looking for.
This song means a lot to me, because I spent years moving all over the country, living in big cities and small towns, and working all kinds of (mostly menial) jobs. And when I thought I was done running everywhere, I ran some more – but my reasons were more cleverly disguised, even to me. I wanted to believe that I was just leading an adventurous life, and perhaps that it was even in accordance with the message of the Bible. After all, didn’t the disciples leave everything to follow Jesus? And didn’t James write that we shouldn’t make big plans for the future? Didn’t Paul do a lot of moving around?
There’s nothing wrong with traveling or moving, if it’s for a good (and known) reason. I won't deny that I had some good times, and I learned some things and made some fun memories. However, that is more a credit to God's grace than it is to my restlessness; he's faithful even when we're acting silly, and I can honestly say that I'm sure I could have learned the same things more quickly, with perhaps even better memories, if I'd just stayed put. The good I gained was in spite of my wandering, not because of it. Going somewhere else isn't bad in and of itself, but your spirit should at least be grounded first. I can’t say mine was. And what I discovered was the same thing that many have discovered before me: the scenery may be a bit different when you run to another location, but life’s essential difficulties are the same. You’re going to have to find a way to pay your bills. You’re going to have to learn how to live, work, and socialize with other people – even those you find difficult to get along with (and who may feel the same way about you). You’re going to have to face the same questions and concerns within yourself. And ultimately, you’re going to have to face God. As David said in Psalm 139: “Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or wither shall I flee from thy presence?” There’s just no getting around the realities of life – not amongst millions of people in the city, or even in the isolation of a high mountain hike in October.
When tempted by a burning impulse to hit the road and relocate, I think it's instructive also to consider Proverbs 28:1: "The wicked flee when no man puruseth: but the righteous are bold as a lion." If we are going on the run, what does that say about the state of our hearts? What would it say about us if we stood our ground?
Psalm 46 says “Be still, and know that I am God…” I always took this to mean that when we’re feeling anxious or tempted to act in haste, we should calm down and count to ten or something, and it may indeed mean that. But I also think that it can be applied to that more long-term sort of restlessness that some of us feel. If life is tough, the best remedy for that is probably to put down some roots and face your problems head on, until God gets you through it. Once that happens, who knows where he might send you?