Lost on the Road Less Traveled

I was given a long-sleeved t-shirt from Greenville, South Carolina's Mast General Store last Christmas. It's sort of a smart-aleck take a favorite poem, by a favorite American poet.

I took the road less traveled, now I have no idea where I am.

This is mostly a jab at my terrible sense of direction. However, I also know that it kind of describes my life at the moment. Sometimes life has these defining moments when you know that a decision must be made, and once that decision is made, there is no turning back. No place to go but forward. Those defining moments can be looked back on as turning points. Serendipitous. The proverbial fork in the road.

When William Borden wrote the words "No Retreat" in his Bible, he was facing this kind of flashpoint in his own life. He had made the decision to leave his fortune and move to China. His Father was not at all happy about this decision, and informed him that he would no longer be allowed to work at the company business. No turning back, no turning back. All that.

There are occasions when the "no retreat" rallying cry is appropriate. Inspiring even.

However, "no retreat" can also stem out another source, that runs deeper than our own commitment, and suprisingly evil. When "no retreat" is rooted in pride, this can result in some of the most foolish decisions ever made by an individual or, since the word does have military etymology, it's ruined many an army. John Bell Hood at the Battle of Franklin), during the American Civil War, being a notorious example.

Retreat can be good. It can even be life-saving.

I am discovering this as we close out our time in Mongolia. Just to be clear, yes, we are leaving Mongolia with our current organization. It is unclear at this point if we will be back. It's actually unclear at this point what even the next step will be. However, I have come to view this as something of a strategic retreat. There is a part of me that would like to push on here in Mongolia. Move ahead in spite of the difficulties. I can even come up with some pretty good reasons to stay. Mainly the Mongolian youth and Mongolian friends that we've come to love and cherish so dearly. Every day, as we march closer to our departure date, I am becoming more painfully aware of the impending separation, and I dread it.

But taking on a "no retreat" stance here, would be both arrogant and foolish. It's time to take a step back. It's time to take some coordinates, hear from the Commander, get some fresh supplies and maybe even find a little healing in the process. Pushing on with a "no retreat" mentality would prove dangerous and deadly for those I love, and for myself.

Jesus took retreats. Mark says that he went to a "desolate place" (Mark 1:35) to be alone and to pray. Sometimes our evangelical tendency to commitment theology likes to highlight how Jesus "set his face to go to Jerusalem" (Luke 9:51). What we fail to take note of is how many times Jesus avoided Jerusalem, and crowds and stoning, because his time had not yet come.

In the end, I think that's just it. It's not just about using our hours, days and years well. Time must also be used appropriately. There's a right time for everything. That's the whole point of Ecclesiastes 3. A time for "every purpose under heaven".

And sometimes, its best to simply withdraw and face the battle front later with refreshment and strength. Or maybe face a different battle alltogether.

Maybe a bit of a retreat will even help me to figure out where in the world I am, as I do very much enjoy untraveled roads and will more than likely end up on one again, whatever the future may hold.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,

But I have promises to keep,

And miles to go before I sleep,

And miles to go before I sleep.

Robert Frost





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