by JL Gerhardt
Sophia is the Greek word for Wisdom, and Propel Sophia seeks out the voices of truly wise women and asks them to share worked examples of how they express faith in daily life. Pull up a chair at Sophia’s table, won’t you? There’s plenty of space.
My legs shook as my husband and I stood in front of our church, the church we’d loved and served as ministers for ten years, and told them God was calling us to something new.
It might have been easier if we knew what that something new was.
In the next few weeks and months we’d list our house on Airbnb, pull our kids out of school to homeschool them, sell our cars, say goodbye to our friends, and move across the world to live on much less money as we waited for clarity and purpose.
Before we told the church, before we’d even made a plan really, we asked a good friend if he thought we were crazy. We’d just built a house, spent years planning for it. We loved the big picture windows looking out at the park, the freestanding tub, the giant dining room table made of the same wood as the ark of the covenant. We loved our church, too. It was growing and active. People were coming to Jesus. Our kids had good friends. Our eldest made the cross country team. Our youngest was president of the student council.
“Are we crazy to give it all up?” we asked.
“That depends,” he said. “Are you running away from something or running to something?” This seemed like a very wise way of weighing the validity of an adventure.
“We’re running to something,” we said (knowing it was true). “We just don’t know what.”
In the middle of the chaos of transitioning, I woke up one morning before my husband, walked to the porch and stood nose to nose with a world-obscuring fog, nothing but milky white mist as far as I could see. “This is our life,” I prayed. “God, I can’t see two inches down the road.”
In the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy we find God’s people rescued from Egypt and delivered (eventually) into the land of Canaan. It’s an adventure story--Israel and God journeying to take hold of the promised treasure.
How did Israel know where to go? Or when to go? They followed a cloud.
God appeared to Israel in the form of a cloud, and when the cloud would rest on the tabernacle, the Lord’s glory filling the tent, the people would know to make camp. But if they woke in the morning to find God’s cloud had lifted, the whole camp packed up and followed the cloud to a
new place. “For the cloud of the LORD was over the tabernacle by day, and fire was in the cloud by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel through all their journeys” (Exodus 40:38).
God didn’t give Israel the GPS location of their destination. He didn’t provide a map or directions or even a projected arrival date. He simply led and invited Israel to follow. Go when I go. Stop when I stop. The lesson seems obvious: Follow God’s lead, and you’ll end up where God wants you.
But there’s more here than just that. There’s a reason God doesn’t give Israel the destination and let them chart their own course, providing for them along the way. There’s a reason the cloud doesn’t disappear when it’s time to go and and reappear when it’s time to stop. God’s teaching them something about living in relationship with Yawheh, the God whose name means (according to many Rabbis) presence, the God whose most striking feature is his relentless “withness,” who sends his son to be “God with us.” This journey isn’t primarily about getting to Canaan; it’s about getting to be together.
In Revelation 21 the apostle John hears a declaration from Heaven; it’s a glimpse at the culmination of human history, an announcement of the arrival of the kingdom. He hears, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them.”
Every journey in all of scripture has this ultimate goal: relationship, proximity, togetherness. Sometimes it seems God obscures the path forward so you can’t go alone.
My family’s been living abroad for eleven months. We’re not quite sure how we got here. It was something like the Israelites following the cloud. We opened our hands and said, “Take us where you want us,” and then did our best to stay close.
In these months we’ve seen God begin new work in us and through us. We’ve seen Him strengthen our family and tend to our hearts. My husband is doing the most satisfying work of his life, a life that’s overflowed with satisfying work. My kids are growing in peace and love. I hardly miss my dining room table at all.
When our friend asked us, back at the beginning of all this, whether we were running away from something or running to something, I wasn’t sure how to describe what we were chasing. My husband didn’t know yet what work he’d do. I didn’t know what God had planned.
I think I know the answer now.
When we first had this idea my husband and I were on a walk and I said, “I feel like God’s picked us up, like he’s carrying us somewhere, and I don’t know why but I don’t care where. I’m like a kid who fell asleep in her dad’s arms. I’m just happy to be here, wherever here is so long as here’s with Him.”
That was the answer: We were running to God. He’s always a good reason to go.
JL Gerhardt is an author and Bible teacher devoted to the work of helping people see, know, and love God. A former Storytelling Minister, college English teacher, and newspaper journalist, Gerhardt is currently traveling around the world with her family and hosting conferences for families called, The Storied Family. Look to Love: A Better Way to Read the Bible is Gerhardt’s seventh book.