Our family loves to travel. In the past thirty years we have logged many miles and seen much of Canada and the United States. I figure if I can have another thirty years we might get most of North America covered. In our travels we often joke about all the “relatives” we encounter along the roads we travel, and by relatives I really mean road signs… let me explain.
Our sir name is Enns which rhymes with “ends”. It all began when my “punny” sense of humor got the best of me one day as I saw a sign that said “this lane ends” and I turned to the kids in the back seat and said “hey guys, check it out, there is our cousin This Lane!” When they finally caught on you can imagine all the relatives we soon found in our travels. Right Lane, Left Lane, and Freeway were some of the most common. The cousins we liked to see best were named Work Zone, Construction and Detour as this typically meant we could resume highway speed. Of course we also would occasionally be very disappointed to meet cousin Pavement as this inevitably led to a rough ride.
Chapter 1 – This lane ends
There are different ways to approach a lane change. It is possible to change lanes simply because you can, but there are also times when a lane change is thrust upon you when you seen the sign: “THIS LANE ENDS” – sometimes the sign will warn you how far it is to the merge, other times you really don’t see it coming until there are only seconds left to make the switch.
Life is full of lane changes… how we make the lane change not only reveals what type of person we are, but can have either lasting positive or negative effects not only on us and those in our vehicle, but also the people in the vehicles around us…so please…change lanes carefully!
Anyone who has taken a road trip knows that if you find yourself in the wrong lane for too long, you may end up on an unplanned detour. Sometimes these detours are short and inconsequential, other times they can entirely change the outcome of your journey.
Chapter 2 – The Myth of the Middle
I was driving on a three lane street in the city on the way to church. I pull onto the street into the right lane and as I pick up speed I signal to move to the middle lane. It is a Sunday morning. There are very few other vehicles on the road. The destination I am headed for is five miles up the street that I am on. As I signal into the middle lane my wife, who is very pragmatic in everything she does, asks why I didn’t stay in the right lane since our destination is on the right side.
“You will only have to move back into the right lane when we get there.” she correctly observes.
I have to think about why I did this for a moment… Finally I respond,
“I like the middle, it feels safer. If anything goes wrong I have lots of room on both sides.”
As we drive on I ponder this further. This is how I live my life. In the middle. Or at least so it seems to me. There are many things in life about which we like to think that we are “in the middle”. I tend to believe that my opinion is always balanced, well supported and in the middle…it is those who disagree with me that are unbalanced, irrational and extreme. Politicians spend fortunes doing opinion polls of people to determine where this mythical “middle” is so that when they make speeches they can appear to be the most moderate candidate on issues over which people are divided. Think about it…how many people do you know who will admit that they are wild-eyed extremists who live on the fringes of normality?
As I consider this whole “being in the middle” concept, I realize that nearly EVERYONE thinks they are in the middle…about everything! Yet, we are all surrounded by conflicting opinions and ideologies. We tend to think of those who oppose our ideologies as extreme. These are the ones who drive in the middle of a two way street. What we don’t realize is that the reason it appears that they are coming straight at us is we are also driving in what appears to us to be “the middle” but in the opposite direction. It becomes a game of chicken, where we both hope the other will flinch first. If one or both of us don’t adjust our course there is going to be a head on collision. The pain and destruction of a head on collision is not unlike the kind of damage that can be caused by conflicting ideologies. In extreme cases wars are fought and people die on both sides sincerely believing they are dying for what is right!
I would readily admit that I tend to believe that I am the one the most balanced people I know. I try to approach everything from what I perceive to be “the middle”…but so do you…and so does nearly every other person on the planet. What makes this problematic is that it is based upon our individual perception, and while our perception can appear to be reality, it very often proves to be faulty. What if we are just on two different roads and that is why the middle of your road looks different than the middle of mine? Or could it be that we are all on the same road but this road is so infinitely wide that we all think we are in the middle? Or perhaps there really is no road, and we are all simply lost in the wasteland of our own ideologies, imagining ourselves to be in the middle of our own imaginary road? I don’t like where any of those ideas lead. So let me suggest an alternative.
The truth is that there are only two roads in life. A wide road and a narrow road. We are told the wide road is flat and smooth and easily navigated and many people are on it, but it leads to destruction. The narrow road is bumpy, difficult to stay on and few people find it, but it leads to an amazing life! Seems to me that much of this life might be about finding that narrow road. The question that lingers in my mind is “how many of us are actively looking for it?” This narrow road is such that in order to remain on it, we must continue to look for it. There are places where it is not clearly marked and if we become careless we can find ourselves tumbling into a hidden ravine or sinking in a muddy swamp. A wrong turn might also lead us to a dead end making it necessary to retrace our steps to find where we got off the right path.
Chapter 3 – Dead Ends
I have on occasion employed my (sometimes morbid) sense of “punny” humor to tease our children that when it comes time for them to find a tombstone for their parents they should just have a special Dead End traffic sign made up with customized spelling to make it read “Dead Enns” and add an arrow pointing down to our graves.
The journey of life typically has at least a few dead ends. These are the points at which the only option is to turn around and retrace your course back to road that leads onward again. Some of these dead ends we enter into intentionally. There are occasionally places that we desire to visit we can only reach by traveling down a dead end road to get there. Some of the prettiest spots in life’s journey are found in these calculated places. There are other dead end roads that we encounter unexpectedly. These are the ones that surprise us and result in disappointment and confusion because we sincerely believed the road we were on would take us somewhere other than to where we find ourselves to be. At such times we can be thankful if we can turn around, retrace our steps to a recent intersection and try a different route.
When our oldest son was learning to count he would often ask people how old they were, which most people did not mind. On one occasion we were visiting my parents and he asked his grandfather how old he was. When my father answered my son’s eyes got very big and serious as he said, “Grandpa, you’re almost at the end of the numbers!” Of course everyone laughed, but the unfortunate truth is that when it comes to this life – we all have to reconcile ourselves to the fact that at some point, this trip called life will be over. Some might call this the final dead end…I prefer to think of it as arriving back home.
Chapter 4 – The Journey Ends
Every journey comes to an end. I remember as a child riding in the car with my parents on our way home from shopping trips or visiting relatives. We lived way out in the country so unless we were just going to see the neighbors, it was always a long trip…at least to a five year old it sure seemed long, pleanty long enough for me to fall asleep on the way home. I always liked it when my father would scoop me up and carry me into the house so sometimes I would pretend to be asleep. I remember as I got a little older the time when I realized that they had determined I was old enough to carry myself in even if I was asleep. It was a winter evening coming home from a visit to my grandmother’s house. I had fallen asleep watching out the windshield as the snow swirled in hypnotic patterns in the light of the headlights as we drove. When we arrived at home I woke when I heard the car engine stop but I pretended to be asleep. I hear my mother ask my father if he was going to bring me in, and I heard him reply “he’s big enough to carry himself in.” I decided at that moment to test my father’s resolve and just stayed where I was pretending to be asleep. In the warmth of the car bundled up in my winter clothing I must have fallen back to sleep for a while as I suddenly realized I was getting a little cold and nobody was coming back to get me. From that time onward I carried myself in when the journey was over.
When our journey on this earth is over we will have to leave the vehicle we have been traveling in and make the transition into the place where we will spend eternity. What that future will be like depends to some extent on the choices we make as we travel this earth. The most important choice that we all have to make at some point in our journey is whether or not we will choose to believe the road map that God has given us to navigate our way home. According to that map, He reveals that Jesus Christ came to earth as God in flesh; and died and was buried but rose from the grave; and that by placing our trust in His substitutionary sacrifice on our behalf our relationship with God can be restored. We obviously have the choice to choose not to believe that to be true, and the consequences of making that choice are that we then choose to spend eternity out of relationship with God. This place apart from God is called by Jesus a place of outer darkness, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. I don’t know about you but that doesn’t sound like much fun to me. On the other hand if we choose to spend eternity in relationship with God, this place is described as a beautiful place where there will be no suffering or pain, but endless joy and peace and perfect fellowship with God and one another. Though it may sound a little selfish I’d rather choose that kind of an eternity since I have the choice.
The best part is that when we make that choice it doesn’t always make our journey on earth easier, in fact at times it makes it more difficult, but it always makes it better. It is like choosing the narrow bumpy winding road that is harder to navigate than the eight lane freeway, but it leads to places that we can never see and experience from the freeway. Most often we don’t find the most fulfilling places to visit right along the freeway. To experience these we have to get off the wide road and take the narrow road, and though it is more difficult and takes more effort, it always is worth the time and effort spent.
The journey ends when we make it home, and there is no place like home. I hope I see you there.