By Dick Scoggins
A scribe came to Jesus and asked if he could follow him. Jesus replied, “The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head” (Luke 9:58). Another aspiring apostle approached him and asked if he could defer his calling to live with his aging father (likely parents) until they died. Jesus seems to reply in a callous fashion, “Follow Me, and allow the dead to bury their own dead” (Matt. 8:22).
Just reading through these passages, it seems like Jesus is being harsh and de-motivating people from following him. But these two stories demonstrate the particular challenges of the journey as one of Jesus’ apostles.
I decided to follow Jesus in the apostolic calling more than 30 years ago. There have been incredible blessings and joys on the journey. But as I grow into my late 60’s I feel a need to reflect, as Jesus does here, on the loneliness of the journey. This is not to say there are not profound joys in this journey, but there is loneliness that is inherent in the calling to be an apostle.
There is an old prayer from the Celtic wanderers (called monastics) as they would climb into their boats to go to the ends of the earth with the good news:
May the peace of the Lord Christ go with you
Wherever He may send you.
May He guide you through the wilderness,
Protect you from the storm.
May He bring you home rejoicing
At the wonders He has shown you
May He bring you home rejoicing
Once again into our door.
These Celtic monks traveled vast distances bringing good news to the wild savages of Scandinavia and as far as the tribes of North America. Many of them never returned home. They chose a life of sacrifice and wandering to further God’s Kingdom.
I too grew up as a constant traveler, though it wasn’t by choice. My dad was in the military, which meant our family had to pick up and move every 18 months to 2 years. My siblings and I lacked a sense of stability, feeling like tumble weeds blowing from one place to the next. I became quite embittered against my parents for having to endure this ever-changing lifestyle. Though I did get reconciled with my dad shortly after coming to faith in my mid-20s, it took me a long time to see how God used my dad’s military life to prepare me for the future.
Years later, my wife, daughter, and I camped out on a Wycliffe missionary base, and for the first time I felt at home. This base had a constant flow of people coming and going, which was very much like the Air Force base I had lived on in Japan for 3 years in my pre-teens. I loved the sense of adventure and excitement that came with the ever-changing environment of the missions world. For the first time, I was thankful for my dad’s military life and how well it prepared me for my calling as an apostle.
That being said, the life of a wandering apostle has been anything but easy. I have experienced the “dark night of the soul” when I have felt distant from God, had no friends, and struggled with depression. But these were struggles God has worked through, and He has brought me into a great place of relational healing and joy during our time in England!
Today, I write this from California where I am again in a dark night of the soul, re-integrating with my kids after 16 years of living apart. California is nothing like my previous experiences in Rhode Island or England, and I no longer feel like much of an American. So in my 60s I am starting over yet again, with a family that bears the scars of the pilgrim life of apostleship (in spite of all I did to try to mitigate those wounds). I came with no ready-made friends or a clear path in yet another new era of life. What fun! (NOT!) The good news is I have made this journey twice before as an adult. Though it will not turn out as I expected, or even as I hoped, I know I will make it through the dark night into a new morning.
For apostles, this ebb and flow of life happens over and over during our lifetimes. It reminds us that this world is not our home, and that we are wanderers seeking a better place. Like the Celtic monastics of old, we are on a journey that will not end in this world. So strap yourself in, pull up your big boy pants, and embrace the ride! Once you have embarked on the journey, you can never go back.
One Spanish adventurer, when he landed on the America’s shores, ordered his men to burn their boats. Theirs was a one-way journey. So is the calling of an apostle. It can be lonely, but there is an excitement of life and a richness of community with other apostles that you can’t get anywhere else.
The apostolic journey has been made by those before us like Jesus and Paul and many saints through the ages. Many of them finished well, embracing the joys and the suffering of the journey. For those of us in this era, we need to look to those who have gone before us in order not to grow cynical or allow the dark nights of the soul to swallow up the joy that is set before us as we finish the race well. We older apostles must also pass the baton to a new generation of apostles who will be our legacy, as we have been for those who went before us.