I wanted to run away when I was a kid.
I don’t mean when I was a little kid. I mean when I was in high school. And I didn’t want to run away because my home life was terrible; it wasn’t. My dad is a pastor, and a good guy. My mom is a sweet lady and the best cook you can imagine. My siblings and I had our fights, sure, but it wasn’t anything abnormal. I had pretty good friends, and three square meals a day. I had a skateboard and a decent bike. My brother had graduated and joined the Marines, so I had my own room. But I still wanted to run away.
I remember sneaking out on a regular basis, raising the garage door a click at a time till it was open enough to belly under it, then I’d slide my old acoustic guitar through and tip-toe several blocks under the boughs of old mossy live oaks to the little lakeside park. I’d sit at the end of the dock and play every song I knew for the gators and bullfrogs.
I’d lie on my back when my fingers got tired and look at the spray of stars, and I’d talk to the God who made them. I’d tell him I wanted to see him face-to-face, and I’d tell him I was sorry for all the mischief I couldn’t seem to stop getting into, and I’d tell him I wanted more. More. I didn’t want to live and die in that little southern town. I didn’t want to live in a trailer, or a church parsonage, or in a town with a Hardees and two traffic lights.
It was the books I had read, see. It was the movies I had seen. It was the songs I heard about Graceland and Sweet Home Alabama, New York City and Belfast. I knew there was another world out there, past the borders of Union County, across the Atlantic, and beyond the Shire. And I wanted to see it.
I didn’t care if it hurt me. I wanted to be hurt. I wanted to have something to sing about, or write about, or tell my kids about. So at least twice — maybe more — I packed my things in an old Jansport backpack, clicked the garage open, tipped my hat to my goodly parents asleep in their bed, and struck out as happy as a hobbit. I remember walking a few miles out of town, hiding in the weedy ditch whenever I saw headlights approaching, wondering where I’d be this time tomorrow night.
But something always held me back. I’m not sure what. Like I said, I was ready to go, hungry for adventure, itching for danger, desperate for a story to tell. But the thrill would fade pretty quickly. I’d get sleepy, or lonely, or hungry, and I’d turn back. Click-click-click went the garage door back down, then I’d slip through the house, timing my footsteps to match my dad’s snores, and collapse in my bed feeling like the coward of the county.
I graduated from high school just like all the other kids, and, just like all the other kids I planned to go to community college. I had no aspirations, because I didn’t know I was allowed to aspire to write books and songs, like, for real, you know?
And then — lo and behold! — I got a call from a band. Next thing you know, instead of college I was playing bass in what was possibly the worst rock and roll band in America. But we were on the road! We traveled all the way from Florida to the exotic land of Minnesota, where people talked funny. It was glorious.
I was 18 years old and at $90 per week, I was a professional musician. Minnesota may not have been as cool as, say, the rebel base on Hoth, but it was at least as cold. And it wasn’t Florida. I had made it out. And with my hair down to my shoulders and my jeans super-tight I was certain that I was quite awesome. Just wait till I visit home, I thought. They’ll see how remarkable I am! They’ll burn with jealousy! They’ll envy these boots, these wavy locks, these harrowing tales of frozen Minnesota!
How very wrong I was. Oh, people were kind. They patiently listened to my anecdotes. They indulged my self-importance — then they went about their business. There were crops to harvest, you see. There were marriages to minister to, there was a church picnic on Sunday, there was a softball game. But wait! I thought. Didn’t you hear what I said? I play bass guitar — and keyboards! I’ve seen the upper-Midwest!
It doesn’t take long to realize that if you’re just passing through, people will only give you passing interest. I felt terribly alone. I had something to prove, but they all had something to do. They were enmeshed in their community, and I had taken great pains to remove myself from it.
So I left again. I went to Jacksonville to live with a friend and fellow musician. Anywhere but home. I needed to be with people who admired my long hair and troubadour credentials, you see. I was living with this guy and his family (he hadn’t graduated from high school yet) and he was heavily involved in his youth group at church. He led songs like “Step by Step” and “Hail, Hail, Lion of Judah.”
One day he asked me if I’d help him with the youth group’s worship service. It wasn’t exactly rock and roll, but I agreed. And that was when Jesus ambushed me. I knew he was real, and though I had strayed far, I never stopped talking with him. But he completely caught me off my guard; he strode into my life during that season and set me gently but firmly on a new path. Music wasn’t a vehicle for fame, I learned; music wasn’t a vehicle for escape; music was, plain and simple, for God’s glory. How could I keep myself from singing?
And so, dear reader, the real adventure began. Instead of pursuing music, I pursued Christ. I couldn’t have articulated why at the time, but I dropped everything, cut my hair (woe unto me!), and enrolled in Bible college, an environment that fit me like a glove. I wasn’t a great student, but I loved living in community, and I loved paying someone to make me study my Bible.
I met Jamie when I was a freshman and married her my sophomore year. That, my friends, was an even deeper, more harrowing adventure. I spent four years there, and that’s when my first real songs came. A whole CD’s worth of songs, in fact. I hit the road — with my wife — as soon as I graduated and moved to Nashville. Our children arrived in quick succession, we traveled to all 50 states in the Union (though I can’t specifically remember North Dakota), I got a record deal, lost a record deal, and got another one.
And here’s what I learned (are you ready?): The adventure is good. Some of us are born with wanderlust. We’re unsettled from the day we’re born, and we itch for a change of scene only moments after the curtain rises on the next one. We look up at the stars and can’t help but think of space travel, or Spanish explorers, or Abraham. We’re pulled into some narrative which we’re certain will cut us to pieces, and yet we dive in headfirst. We’re fools, and happy to be so.
A lot has been made of the Christian life-as-adventure, and I get that. Christ didn’t die and conquer death for us to waste away in front of the television. But here’s the thing: No experience in my life has approached the joy, wonder, pain, and beauty of staying put.
Home is where the action is. These people around us — our families, our church, our community of believers — are profound mysteries. Each person you meet is an image-bearer, the crown of God’s creation on earth, loved and known by the Maker more intimately than we could possibly imagine.
What a shock to discover one day that my own children have more to teach me about the heart of Jesus than I have to teach them! What heart-shattering love was shown me when my wife — who has seen me at my grumpiest, my most sinful, my angriest — greeted me just this morning with a smile and a sweet kiss. What testimony to God’s grace is proclaimed when the men who know my weakness and my great selfishness best are the same with whom I share the stage every night! And what an honor to carry the light of Christ’s mercy into the dark heart of another’s struggle.
Yes, the Great Storyteller has adventure for us. Sometimes it’s adventure like we read about in our favorite books. But most often, and most amazingly, the adventure in stories and films and songs is only a metaphor for the journey we take into the Kingdom, side-by-side with other travelers, weary sojourners on the long road Home.
And that adventure is happening all around you, in your family and your community and in your church. It’s happening across the street in your neighbor’s house — you know the one who never opens their blinds and never waves hello? It’s happening in the heart of the kid who’s so angry he’s hard to like.
So remember, next time you have the option to either stay home and close the blinds or to sit on the porch with another human being, choose people. If you have the option to strike out and find your fortune or to stick around and know the folks near you, remember the real buried treasure is the human soul, a thing so valuable God himself forsook Heaven’s riches to obtain it.
Copyright 2010 Andrew Peterson. All rights reserved.