There are so many adages that tell us to plan ahead in life, such as this interchange from Alice in Wonderland: “One day Alice came to a fork in the road and saw a Cheshire cat in a tree. ‘Which road do I take?’ she asked. ‘Where do you want to go?’ was his response. ‘I don’t know,’ Alice answered. ‘Then,’ said the cat, ‘it doesn’t matter.'”
When I began this journey with the Genesis 17:1 verse that said, “Walk in my presence and become perfect,” the implication for me, and I would guess for most of us, is that everything in life is going to turn out great. Unfortunately, my practical experience with that is life frequently doesn’t feel like my feet are on solid ground.
I tend to sense more questions than I sense I’m living with all the answers; in fact, way too often I sense I have none of the answers. Worse, sometimes I feel like I’ve been given one of those Scantrons on which I’m supposed to color in my answers with a No. 2 pencil and, not only do I not know the answers, I don’t even know the questions.
I suppose that’s one of the reasons I enjoy the Bible so much – not because it has all the specific answers I think I need, but because of those random verses that make me realize that what feels so insecure is what the faith life is really like. For example, Exodus 13:17-18b [Jerusalem Bible] says, God did not let them take the road to the land of the Philistines, although that was the nearest way. God thought that the prospect of fighting would make the people lose heart and turn back to Egypt. Instead, God led the people by the roundabout way of the wilderness …
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been traveling that ’roundabout way’ rather than the superhighway I’d much prefer. Again, remember how childlike I can be as I ask God over and over on the journey, “Are we there yet?”
Most of my life hopes are that my life will be easy and filled with happiness. I did a fairly extensive study on the subject of joy a number of years ago. The study was prompted by a comment my North Carolina pastor made about how much scripture had to say about joy, implying we’d be so excited to know how much earthly joy was in store for us in our walk with God. So with joyful anticipation, I started my study. I was surprised all right, but it wasn’t a joyful surprise; the surprise was how often scripture related our joy as being a joy in the midst of suffering – not exactly what I was hoping for. My favorite scripture of that concept is, again from the Jerusalem Bible Hebrews 12:2 Let us not lose sight of Jesus, who leads us in our faith and brings it to perfection: for the sake of the joy which was still in the future, he endured the cross, disregarding the shamefulness of it … [emphasis mine].
Finally, the scripture on which the title of today’s musing is based, Hebrews 11:8 [JB] It was by faith that Abraham obeyed the call to set out for a country that was the inheritance given to him and his descendants, and that he set out without knowing where he was going. [again, the emphasis is mine]
I suppose what I learn from all this is that the Cheshire Cat isn’t God and if I’m getting my answers of which fork to take from the Cheshire Cat it probably doesn’t matter which one I take. But when I’m walking with God, even if it seems I’m going the roundabout way, my joy feels more like endurance than happiness, and I feel like I haven’t a clue where I’m going, I can still rest in the knowledge that He said in Jeremiah 29:11 [NIV], ‘For I know the plans I have for you,‘ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’