A benefit of moving from time to time comes in seeing things in a new light. Life in Spokane, Washington, for instance, was dramatically different for me as a teenager than life in Glasgow, Montana. Glasgow, less than one-twentieth the size of Spokane, was great for deer hunting and wheat farming; Spokane offered lakes, libraries, and a nearby ski resort. So when my family moved during my high school years the world changed for us in thousands of particulars.
I now live in Chippenham, England, and it’s unlike my second home near Portland, Oregon, in as many ways again. Added to that, I’m writing this entry as I visit Piotrkow Trybunalski, Poland, where still more variations jump out. Trips to Japan, China, India, Serbia, Slovenia, Estonia, and Cambodia have each offered added adventures in recent years. The changes are sometimes enjoyable, sometimes awkward, and always eye opening.
Here’s a question. How does the world look to a traveler as compared to the way it looks to someone who prefers to stay close to home? Do new places, experiences, and impressions change us? And, if so, how?
First, though, let’s not make the mistake of equating mileage and value. Traveling doesn’t make anyone better than others. At least not if better is measured by the paired calling to love God and neighbors. Anyone who loves others has a rich and rewarding life wherever they happen to live. So, while there may be value in traveling for educators or for ministry or business concerns, the number of pins posted on a global map hardly set up some inherent value in a person.
But there are benefits to traveling. For one, as we noted at the start, traveling offers a much larger context for life. Meals in Beijing or Turin, for instance offer a new range of experiences for the palate. And the sights of Oregon in the US or the Cotswolds of England can stretch an artist’s vision of beauty. Every national culture also has its own ranges of personalities—whether the humor of the Scots or the animated conversations of the Italians—that stir lively responses among their guests. Some places, of course, are more dour; others more optimistic. Some are religious; others very irreligious. Some invite you to stay; others soon send you away.
Yet all these are simply superficial variations on the underlying themes of life: in every culture we need to eat, sleep, wash up, and so on. And wherever we go we will soon identify both friends and fools; givers and takers; the poor and the wealthy; the strong and the weak.
These reminders of our shared humanity set up the second and greater benefit of traveling: it makes us long for places rich with beauty, full of friends, and robust in wisdom. That is, we start to see that the brokenness of the world is all too widespread. I’ve now seen, for instance, genocide museums in Auschwitz, Kigali, and Phnom Penh—places where death once prospered, and where there are now lovely people selling beautiful gifts and fragrant flowers.
I just drove past the expansive but wildly overgrown Jewish graveyard in Piotrkow, a city where the Jews are no longer to be found. Sunday was also Poland’s day to celebrate mothers, so there were other graveyards filled with children laying out striking floral arrays for mothers now departed. In sum I hate the evil and love that good—but I also realize that both have grown up from the same soil of our common humanity.
And from such experiences comes a stronger point of view—a new perspective—that this world does not satisfy us as much as it calls us to ask bigger questions.
Why, in particular, do most of us live as if this world—this brief time of present life—is an end in itself? Why do we presume that our comfortable church in our happy neighborhood in our pleasant town in our nation of birth is all there is to life? Shouldn’t we look more widely and see that there’s more to life than personal security and favorite relationships?
The best place to begin asking such questions comes in traveling through God’s word—the Bible—much more than through the world. But the two settings offer common insights: this world promises something greater, but we only have a glimpse of it. In the Bible we have more: the promise of love, joy, peace, hope, truth, and a dwelling with God. So our present travels should leave us both dissatisfied and intrigued. A better perspective lies ahead:
“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory” (Colossians 3:1-4).
So quit being provincial—be sure to include eternity in your itinerary.