I’ve only lived in one other country for an extended period of time: Zaire. It was for nearly a year, between graduating from college and going to graduate school. I served as an electrician in a remote mission station in what today is known as the Democratic Republic of Congo. I learned to speak Swahili, did some cool stuff, got sick quite a bit, and still have some Pygmy artifacts to show for it.
From Romantic Vision to Unavoidable Reality
I don’t think about that episode in my life much, but I thought about it last night when my son and I were watching a travel documentary on the Congo. The host of “Parts Unknown,” Anthony Bourdain, was fulfilling a life-long fantasy to travel the Congo River. What began as a romantic vision of exploring the deepest parts of Africa eventually eroded into the unavoidable reality that it was a hard, hard going. Broken down vessels, a horrid and unpredictable food supply, insect infestations, and so on. At one point a frustrated Bourdain looks at the camera and says, “It is written that I should be ‘loyal to the nightmare of my choice.’ I think I now understand what that means.”
Long story, but Bourdain was parroting another Congo explorer, Joseph Conrad, who wrote a novel in 1899 about the exact same journey called Heart of Darkness. Multiple times Conrad uses the phrase, “loyal to the nightmare of my choice.” It was Conrad’s contention that any journey comes with layers of complexity and challenges never envisioned, and there will be times when the journey is a nightmare. Bourdain found that to be true, and the video camera caught that well. As we choose the journey we choose the nightmare. Loyalty means we persevere and make as much sense as we can, even if it never (this side of eternity) makes sense.
The Journey and the Nightmare
So I got to thinking about the journey of faith, and how we sign up for a relationship with God because it entirely does make sense. We need the forgiveness of sin and the perspective of hope. It is compelling to know the Lord, and it’s a wonderful ride. With complexities. The Apostle Peter put it this way: “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.” (I Peter 4:12-13). Fellow travelers, let me encourage you with this reminder: One day the wait will be over.
***How do you handle your journey when it feels like a nightmare? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.***