They say one of the hardest things to train a dog to do is “stay”, and I can certainly attest to that.
My dog is opportunistic. If the entryway door gets opened far enough, and he’s nearby, he will dash out of the door in a split second. Even if you tell him to stay, he’s going to take off anyway.
He runs down our driveway or through the woods, looking for adventure. It doesn’t matter how many people are here at our house–even if we’re hanging around outside. No matter what, he’s gone.
I’m not sure why he leaves. He runs to other houses, checking out what they might have going on. Perhaps he thinks they might have something more exciting or fun to offer than we do. Or, maybe it’s just the thrill of running and exploring that leads him astray.
So we go out searching for him. We jump in the car and drive around, trying to figure out where he went… trying to convince him to return to his home.
I can relate to him. I love adventure and travel. I crave the excitement of a new place, a new journey, a different experience.
Perhaps it’s in my blood. My father grew up as a missionary kid, living in South America much of his life.
Or, maybe it’s from my experiences. Growing up, I lived in at least 8 different locations including 4 different states. In college, I began going on missions trips (now up to 8 and counting) and spent a semester in Central America.
I always thought I would be a missionary when I grew up–a missionary that goes to another country to share the gospel. There was something about the unknown, the adventure, and the travel that appealed to me. I never thought I would be settled down in my home state for years.
Whenever I am feeling overwhelmed or stressed out, my first instinct is to get out of town. Somehow it feels like being in a different location would perhaps make the pain or challenges I’m facing disappear.
Sometimes, it goes deeper than just the desire to wander away physically.
I begin to wonder if I am really where I am supposed to be. I wonder whether perhaps God got his wires crossed by putting me in a particular situation. Or if maybe I’m just not cut out for x, y, or z, and maybe that is meant for someone else. And I wonder if I maybe missed a sign–the one that had me destined for some other, more exciting (or “better”) journey.
As I wonder, my heart wanders.
I’m quite sure I’m not alone, especially since there’s a hymn (“Come, Thou Fount”) that was written in 1758 that expresses this same sentiment:
O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.
This seems to be a pattern in my life: my feet are prone to wander… and my heart is, too. I start to feel discontented if I’m in any one place – or position – for too long.
Maybe, like my dog, I feel that there’s something better just outside of my current boundaries. Perhaps I think that a different location or experience would fulfill me in a new way – more than where I am currently.
Most people ask the question, “What if God asks me to GO?” They wonder how they would respond if God sent them to Africa or China or some other foreign place they’d never been. But for me, the hard question is, “What if God asks me to STAY?”
What if there isn’t some grand, exciting thing He wants me to do? What if my mission is right here in my own backyard?
The problem with staying is that it doesn’t feel nearly as exciting as going.
It’s the classic “grass is greener” syndrome. I look at what other people are doing in some far off location, or the ways God is using a particular person, and I wonder if maybe that’s what I should be doing. Maybe that’s where I should be – instead of where I am right now.
The danger in this is that I start to think that maybe I know better than God. I start to think that my plan is probably better than his.
In “Wild and Free”, Jess Connolly writes:
Our hearts before we met Jesus were wandering around this earth, looking for something to put our hope and devotion into. Our hearts after meeting Jesus are still so prone to wander that we would leave Him for a raisin cake most days. But our Father – He knows this. So He made a way. He came after us with His relentless love.
Yes, God comes after my wandering heart, the same way we go searching for Moxie when he runs off. When my heart wanders, God doesn’t stop loving me. No, he pursues me even more. He reminds me that he is, in fact, the One who knows best.
When we tell our dog to “stay”, there is a reason for it. We can see danger that he can’t see. We know what is coming up, and so the command to stay is not simply because we want obedience, but because we know what is best for him. And quite often, there is a reward if he follows through.
Often we take Moxie out on the trail behind our house. Once we get to a certain point, we let him off leash, and he’s free to run and explore to his heart’s content. It’s a safe place, away from vehicles and other houses. It’s the right time and place for him to adventure.
In the same way, God sometimes surprises me by giving me the adventure my heart craves and rewards I don’t anticipate.
And when it’s His idea, it’s way better than anything my own mind could think up. When he lets me run free, it’s true freedom. I’m not trying to escape from the boundaries around me–instead, I’m embracing the adventure He’s led me to.