The road sign was as deceptive as a campaign promise. In bright red and white, that small picture on the large blue sign promised a Wendy’s off the highway.
Before you judge me, please know that during our vast college tour through the southeast where we traversed 10 states in 8 days, this was the only truly fast food restaurant we visited. I mean, we ate fast sometimes. We stopped at Chipotle, where we were (gratefully) not sickened, and at Panera, where we sat by the fire, even though it was 80 degrees outside, but this was the first of the kind of meals you eat in the car just so you can keep driving. (After 7 days in the car, who would have thought we really wanted to keep driving?) That day, we were approaching the final leg of our journey, schlepping somewhere between DC and NY City, on or near the New Jersey turnpike. Let’s just say, we didn’t want to linger. Who wants to linger on or near the NJ Turnpike?
Cruising off the ramp, we saw the ever present golden arches, just off the highway. But I had Wendy’s in mind. Admittedly, the draw for this particular food chain was the chocolate frosty that I would order that would surely sustain me for several more hours of highway driving before we would stop for the night. I was not so enticed by the square burger patty that would peek out from the over processed bun, but lousy burgers come with the dreaded fast food territory.
We followed the signs with the red logo up the street. Then we had to turn at the lights. Then, we had to stop at the next set of lights and wait. Then, drive some more. We drove, and drove. Where was this place? I promise: it took us no less than 10 minutes off the highway to find the place that was so deceitfully promised on that big bold highway sign. That is like getting off Route 95 at Exit 53,and expecting to find our beloved church right off the exit! Ten minutes felt like an eternity, given that we were on the hunt for fast food. And once we finally got there, there was nothing fast about this fast food. The cashier was a slug. The soda barista was a drip. The fry-o-later attendant was a clogged artery. We were stuck in a fast food traffic jam with no movement in sight. And after all that time in fast food purgatory, what did we have to show for our relative patience? Yep. A bad burger and a small frosty.
Here is the thing. I have been on the road of this sabbatical for a while now. Fortunately, I’m not yet approaching the last leg of this journey. I have miles to go before July. But, at times, I wonder what it is that I will have to show for this time.
In truth, it has taken me a long time to get off the highway of church pastor-ing. Church pace is fast. At times, church traffic is exhausting. Sometimes, we church folk find ourselves stuck in a jam. Long days on the road are expected, and Sundays arrive like mile markers, demanding careful attention and focus. The speed of church life races, and while I love the pastor’s path, the days on the road can be long.
But, on this sabbatical, I have had the chance to exit the highway for a bit. I followed some road signs that led me to some local attractions. I have checked out some great places that foster great learning. Still, I have wondered: where is this place that I am going? Will I ever find it? Is it worth the drive? Will it feed me? Will I get my sweet dessert?
The questions are silly, I know. God does not promise to bring us to our destination in any estimated amount of time. God is good at taking us on scenic routes and around bypasses. Following God is precisely a practice in patience. We never know where God is leading us; we only glimpse small signs along the road of faith and try to follow where God leads. So, I can’t know what I will have to show for this time. But I do know (or at least I try to remember) that isn’t really the point. I delight in exiting the highway for a bit. I know that I am being fed. I taste sweet moments, and appreciate good meals (not the fast ones). I cherish time with family, and treasure time with God. I am happy lingering here, off the highway, for a while, and I trust that God is leading me, even if I am not sure where. That is, what we are called to do as disciples, after all.