Author’s Note: I penned this article several months before the COVID-19 shelter-in-place orders and travel restrictions. The message of the article is still relevant, however, and perhaps even more so, given our current circumstances.
Getting to the airport on time, making your way through security, removing essential articles of clothing like belts and shoes, unpacking half of your carry-on, frantically explaining to the TSA agents why you forgot to stow one of your oversize liquids with your checked baggage, quickly reassembling everything to your bag alongside a multitude of other flustered passengers, only to then fit yourself for the next three hours into a seat that offers as much comfort as it does leg room just doesn’t have the same allure as it did twenty years ago.
“I love to travel, but I hate to fly,” is a refrain I offer to whoever is listening when I am preparing for a trip that will require the use of an airplane. What’s the problem? Nothing in particular. Actually, my less-than-enthusiastic attitude toward flying is really in response to the entire process.
Come to think of it, I’m pretty sure trying to do all this with three little kids has also added to my dim view of flying.
Greater Access to Travel
It’s only been in the last few decades that travel has become so easy, and it is only within the last decade that an opportunity to travel has been an informal prerequisite for job searches. For the millennial generation, travel has become the dominant reason for why people work. Warren Cole Smith comments, “…in a survey of millennials conducted by the Boston Consulting Group (BCG), 70 percent of respondents said travel is a major reason they work. About 72 percent said they want to visit five continents in their lifetime.”
The inconveniences that attend air travel notwithstanding, the ability to span entire countries and continents in a matter of hours is a remarkable development in world history. Even the “complaints” I just leveled against flying are slightly obnoxious in light of the major conveniences that airports and airplanes do offer us.
The ability to jump on a $120 million piece of precision machinery and scuddle my family to Montana, spend a few days teaching at a men’s retreat in Virginia, or take a week in England with my wife (just for fun!) is a gift of grace for which I can thank God. There are many who, for the sake of the gospel, have embraced the difficulties of global travel to take Christ to untouched lands. Jesus traveled throughout Israel during his three-year ministry. Paul traversed Rome and Greece for the sake of the church. Praise the Lord!
A Spirit of Restlessness
Nevertheless, there seems to be, among this present generation, a pining after travel that signals more than the innocent desire to “see the world.” For many, travel has become a core component of their identity and a subtle source of boasting, even if it is of the humble-brag variety. Traveled towns and cities and states and countries are displayed as notches on one’s belt-of-life-accomplishments, and the more obscure or remote the location, the more impressive the notch.
Those who don’t possess these notches are pitied as the less-cultured and less-experienced. “I thank you God that I am not like that homebody over there; I’ve traveled the world and tasted of every cuisine and meandered through every town.” In its essence, however, this passion for travel among the so-called millennial generation is not an unusual development in the course of human history. The heart is restless when it isn’t satisfied in Christ, and it will seek satisfaction in anything in order to fill that spiritual void.
The truth is that those who are seeking the transcendent in world travel will never find it. Solomon knew this better than anyone. While he didn’t have access to the kind of opportunities we do today, he was able to learn, painfully, that no matter what it is—romance, food, drink, work, wealth—nothing can satisfy the soul apart from God (see Eccl 1:1-2:26). No off-the-grid village, mountain-top Go-Pro video, remote historic landmark, Facebook-worthy photo with the locals, or oceanside villa can settle the restless heart. Only God in Christ can do that.
Of course, such gifts, as Solomon also learned, can be enjoyed for the glory of God when they are received within the context of wisdom rather than sources of ultimate satisfaction or badges of personal achievement. But, as with all of God’s gifts, we are not obligated or counseled by Scripture to indulge incessantly in such pleasures. When it comes to travel, many have, in their pursuit of what’s on the horizon, missed what’s right in front of them. In Scripture, when movement away from home becomes the default, wisdom seems to suffer.
The foolish woman is characterized as someone whose “feet do not remain at home” (Prov 7:11). Same with the foolish man: “Like a bird that wanders from her nest, so is a man who wanders from his home” (Prov 27:8). The constant search for “elsewhere” is borne of spiritual fitfulness, not spiritual stability: “Wisdom is in the presence of the one who has understanding, but the eyes of a fool are on the ends of the earth” (Prov 17:24).
Content with Christ and with Home
With this new-found freedom to travel, Christians will be tempted to view a commitment to their local church, their city, their neighborhood, and their home as a commitment to mediocrity. In reality, while believers will always have a passion for the nations for the sake of the gospel, our satisfaction with life at home may not only be a mark of deeper joy, but a means to it. Always ready to bear the troubles that attend travel to serve others, Christians will also be ready to bear the reproach of a world that is using exotic travel for spiritual fulfillment rather than seeking that fulfillment in Christ. When we are content in Christ, we will be content where he has us.