“Forget about what’s happened;
don’t keep going over old history.
Be alert, be present. I’m about to do something brand-new."
Isaiah 43:18-19 (MSG)
In the famous Greek poem The Odyssey, the hero Odysseus is swept away for 10 years, fighting a battle that is not his own. Eager to return to his homeland, his journey is disrupted and he spends 10 more adventurous years on the sea, trying to survive shipwrecks and storms and eventually make his way home. He is seeking peace and tranquility in his homeland, but seems unable to reach it. Finally, he receives a mystical message that his homecoming will indeed happen, but he must make one final journey. And it has to do with the ship oar in his hand.
The oar has become a trusty companion over the past decade. It was his tool for survival on the seas, and a reminder of all he's overcome. And now he is told to carry it far inland and plant it into the ground. The land is so far from the sea that the locals won’t know what it is, and they’ll think it’s a farm tool for separating grain and chaff.
What an odd task.
Now, since The Odyssey is an allegory, there are loads of meaning in each element, and we are free to interpret in our own ways as well. But one thing sticks out in this story...
What was critical and meaningful to Odysseus at one time will not always be needed by him in the same way. Odysseus needs to leave behind one of the tools that defined his life, because a new season was at hand. In fact, he would need to intentionally place it behind him in order to move on.*
Jesus is constantly inviting us to do this sort of stuff. Call it pruning. Call it becoming new. Call it working out our salvation. But there are times when what has helped us in one season needs to be left behind in order to live fully into the next as we follow him.
What if the thing that has fueled you for years, helping you to battle through and survive, is the very thing that needs to be released in order to peacefully move with God to the next phase of your life?
What if your need to prove yourself, which has made you a successful businessperson or entrepreneur, is now the thing that is hindering you from being fully present with your children as they grow up?
What if your cynicism about churches, which has kept you vigilant and protected after having your trust betrayed in a previous experience, is now no longer needed as you step into truly meaningful community?
What if your strength and ability to be independent, which propelled you to leave an abusive relationship many years ago, is not what's needed now as opportunities arise for truly loving, deep spiritual friendships?
What if black-and-white understandings of the world, which helped you establish your convictions early in your faith, need to be released so that you can walk with Jesus into the gray and complicated areas of life?
What if your oar has been the self-protection of passivity, which allowed you to be comfortable and quiet, when you know that God is stirring you to take some risks and start using your gifts in a new way?
What’s your oar? What do you need to put in the ground?
Jesus' invitation for the disciples to follow him meant many things, but two of them are obvious. It meant a constant journey, and it meant leaving things behind that they had once relied on. But the future was worth it all. This summer is an amazing time to bury some oars and embrace what’s next.
Jesus, give me clarity on what to release, and give me Your presence for the next journey.
*Thanks to Richard Rohr for his insights on this story.