When Does Wanderlust Become Selfish?

What does the word “adventure” make you think of? For many millennials, myself included, it likely conjures thoughts of a wanderlust-filled journey taken to find ourselves and make the most of our fleeting youth by taking a cross-country road trip, traveling overseas, or moving to a new city.

There isn’t anything particularly wrong about enjoying these things, but if this is where our sense of adventure begins and ends, we have an impoverished understanding of the word. When is our wanderlust borne out of a self-centered YOLO-fueled enthusiasm to see the world? Is the pursuit of self-actualization really a worthy one?

I was recently watching one of my favorite adventure stories, The Fellowship of the Ring. About halfway through the film, after a harrowing journey from the Shire in which they narrowly avoided capture by the evil ringwraiths, Frodo Baggins and Sam Gamgee arrive at Rivendell. Frodo is healing from a dagger wound from one of the wraiths and both hobbits are enjoying some much-needed rest. They’ve already put their lives on the line by taking the One Ring to Rivendell, but now they face a crossroads: where will their journey lead them next? Sam, ever the faithful friend, has already started to pack for the journey back to the Shire.

“We did what Gandalf wanted, didn’t we?” he says. “We got the Ring this far to Rivendell. And I thought, seeing as how you’re on the mend, we’d be off soon. Off home.”

Put yourself in Frodo’s shoes here for a moment. Surely he would have liked nothing better than to make the safe, reasonable decision to return home, but he didn’t. Instead he chose the path of an unlikely adventure, volunteering to carry the ring to Mordor where it could be destroyed.

I think we have something to learn from Frodo’s decision and the motives behind them. In choosing to bear the burden of the ring, he took on the hopes of all the free peoples of Middle Earth, and he assumed responsibility for their fate. He did it because he had a sense of duty and calling that this task had been laid out specifically for him. For Frodo, the adventure wasn’t about the journey itself, which would be dangerous and grueling, but about seeking the good of others and being faithful to the task before him. He wanted to return home, but there was work to be done.

What does it mean for us to embark on a selfless adventure?

The Lord of the Rings is a fantasy story, after all, and none of us are being called to carry an object of pure evil into the heart of a volcano.

One of the smartest people I’ve ever met is a missionary in Colombia, where he teaches at a seminary. By his own admission, he doesn’t like it there. Life in Colombia can feel personally stifling for him, and it is hard on his family. He would much rather have stayed at Oxford University, where he did his doctorate work, because it was one of the few places where he’s ever felt deeply understood and where his gifts would be celebrated. Instead of staying at a place where he felt “at home,” however, he decided to move to South America because he is convinced that is where God has called him to be. He holds no romantic notions about the “adventure” of doing missions in the developing world or spending time in a new culture. When asked why he stays in Colombia, his answer is simple: “Because I’m called.”

The Bible itself is also full of these kinds of adventure stories.

What was the life of the Apostle Paul if not an adventure? And yet in 2 Corinthians, he paints a picture of his life that sounds even worse than everything Frodo went through. Paul describes himself as afflicted, perplexed, and persecuted, and he lists difficulties like being shipwrecked, flogged, and imprisoned.

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And why? “For it is all for your sake,” he writes to the Corinthian church, “so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.”

The kind of adventure God calls us to is not one that flees responsibility.

The kind of adventure God calls us to is not the quit-your-job-and-travel-the-world kind of adventure that, while good and fun, we tend of think of as a way to escape or delay living a mature, responsible life. On the contrary, the truly epic adventure, the biblical adventure, the real adventure, is one that involves taking on responsibility. It refuses to remain in the safety and comfort of home because there is a broken and hurting world out there that desperately needs help.

This means risk. It means stepping into situations with uncertain outcomes. It means, frankly, that sometimes adventures suck. But as Christians we can embark on them without fear because we have hope that God’s powerful, loving hand is at work supporting us and guiding us along the way. As Gandalf reminded Frodo, “There are other forces at work in this world Frodo besides the will of evil. Bilbo was meant to find the Ring, in which case you also were meant to have it. And that is an encouraging thought.”

God has prepared good works for us on the adventurous road, so let’s step out in faith and walk in them.

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