My story (striking out on my own)
“I am looking for someone to share in an adventure that I am arranging…”
“We are plain quiet folk and have no use for adventures. Nasty disturbing uncomfortable things! Make you late for dinner!”
This exchange between the wizard Gandalf and the hobbit Bilbo Baggins, penned by J. R. R. Tolkien nearly 50 years ago, has been resurrected recently in the form of a major film series. Life as a Christ-follower is certainly an adventure, and Tolkien, a Christian, was well aware of this. In fact, the entire Lord of the Rings series of books (and movies) is riddled with Christian metaphors. I am especially moved by the message that the unadventurous life may not be worth living.
But if I’m completely honest then I have to admit that when I’m out on an adventure, sometimes I feel like Bilbo, dreaming of my cozy warm home filled with food and all the comforts of modern life. Usually a couple days into a backpacking trip I start to feel the symptoms of the Bilbo syndrome. Part of me wants to explore what’s around the next bend in the trail. But part of me wants to be lazy and take the path of least resistance.
The same is true when my daily life adventures begin to feel like they are more than I can handle. But if we’re not willing to live the adventure, then we’ll have no stories to tell. And Peter tells us we have to be ready to share our story, which is God’s story really if we’re on this adventure with Him.
There are many days when I feel like my story is kind of boring. But when it registers that my story is just one piece of God’s grand story in humanity, then I realize that it really is a story worth telling.
Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. 1 Peter 3:15
When I graduated from McQuaid Jesuit High School in 1988, I felt that I needed some space from the drama of home life. So I followed my brother to San Diego where I landed in the family-friendly neighborhood of Ocean Beach (italics to be read sarcastically).
OB, as the locals call it, is a classic southern California beach community that got lost somewhere in the 1960s. The main drag, Newport Avenue, is strewn with taco shops, bars, and surf shops. At the end of Newport is a long pier typically dotted with surfers. And at the north end is dog beach, where hippie beach dogs can let their hair down.
Now, I had begun smoking pot already in high school so sliding into the beach party lifestyle was like slipping into a hot tub with a cocktail in my hand. I made friends quickly and found easy access to recreational drugs and alcohol. And while all of my friends back home had dutifully started college, I decided to major in volleyball and surfing at the beach a few blocks from my house.
I worked in restaurants and bars for the next seven years where I was introduced to partying at a whole new level. But I found that these friends would come and go, like their loyalty. And to make matters worse, I was becoming just like them. Eventually, I lacked credibility and couldn’t be trusted. I’d do or say whatever worked best for me at the moment. I have a lot of regrets from those years, though I know I have been forgiven.
In the meantime, I started attending community college, changing majors every semester but working hard and getting good grades. But after almost three years of community college, including summer school, I eventually ran out of classes to take and had to make a decision about a 4-year university to transfer into. San Diego State University felt much too big, with thirty-some thousand students. I had visited UCSD many times and never felt comfortable there. Everyone walked around alone with headphones on, looking away if I tried to make eye contact. And USD, the local Catholic college, was too, well, Catholic. I’d had enough of Catholicism and had no interest in subjecting myself to it again. In fact, I was pretty antagonistic toward Christians of all denominations at that point, and favored the more open-ended, choose-your-own-rules worldviews of Rastafarianism and Buddhism.
So when a friend at work recommended this little evangelical school on the cliffs called Point Loma Nazarene College, it made absolutely no sense for me to even look into it. But I was feeling desperate and thought it might be worth a quick visit. Circling campus on my 1975 BMW motorcycle I was blown away by its beauty. Sitting on 92 acres of cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean, PLNC was one of the most marvelous spots I had yet seen in southern California. Walking around the campus I found that students and adults alike would greet me with a warm smile and even an occasional “good morning.”
When I stopped in the registrar’s office, the little old ladies working there made me feel like a long lost grandson come home. It didn’t make any sense. A non-believer at an evangelical college where I would have to attend chapel three times a week and even take Bible classes. Worse yet, tuition was much higher than either of the two state school options. Yet there I was, completing an application. What was I thinking?
In retrospect I can see God’s hand guiding me in these decisions. But at the time, I couldn’t explain why I was doing what I was doing. Although I couldn’t see it coming, everything was about to change.
Take-home point: Before you ever knew it, maybe even before you ever knew Him, God was moving in your life.
Take-home verse: 1 Peter 3:15
Questions for thought
Have you seen or read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings stories? Have you caught all the Christian imagery Lewis scatters throughout them?
What bad choices have you made in the past? If you are a Christ-follower, do you know that you are forgiven? Have you also forgiven yourself?
In retrospect, can you see God’s hand at work in your life before you ever chose to follow Him?
Mighty God, in your great wisdom, you knew all the choices, good and bad, that we would make in our lives. And yet you still chose to send your Son to die for us that we might live. Help us to see your guiding hand of grace and mercy as we reflect on our past. And may you get all the glory. Amen.