“Lord, what do you want me to do?” This plaque sits outside the church in Assisi, Italy where the great St. Francis is buried. Just beyond it is a bronze statue of the saint, weary and slouched on his horse, returning to his homeland of Assisi. He had lost his taste for worldly life and was ready to embrace the life God was setting before him and calling him to. “Go back to your city and you will be told what to do.” Do what I am asking, and you will be shown the way. I think of Abraham, who was called to leave his city for someplace unknown. Francis was called to return to his homeland. They both obeyed. And they were both blessed and became a blessing to others.
There’s something very striking to me about both of these men and what God was asking them to do. We are all called at different times in our lives to leave something or return to something. It can be physical or spiritual, a real place or a mindset. We are asked to set something down or to pick something up. God nudges us to head off in a new direction or go back to something we may have long since given up on. There’s a delicate balance between the past and the future, and many of us are far too easily rooted in one or the other.
At times we are unable to let go of the past, which makes it virtually impossible to embrace our future. People or events long gone can still be very much alive in our minds. God called us to get up and leave, but a part of us stayed behind. Abraham was called to get up and leave his homeland and all he knew for a new life. He obeyed, and was blessed beyond what he ever could have imagined. Imagine if he would have stayed behind.
Then there are those moments when we are called to go back and take another look at something we may have left behind. Perhaps it was too painful to deal with at the time. Maybe we let fear or unbelief stand in the way of seeing it through to completion. St. Francis was called back to the place he began. There was work for him to do in his homeland. He had seen all the world had to offer, and was disillusioned by it. Through a vision, God called him to lay down the worldly things and return for a new mission. He was coming home, but with an entirely new outlook and purpose.
Leaving for the great unknown or going back for a second look at something – I think both can be equally difficult if we aren’t in step with the Spirit. Sometimes we walk ahead when we are supposed to stay put. Other times we plant our feet in the ground stubbornly when God is asking us to move on. Abraham heard clearly the call to get up and go. St. Francis knew without a doubt that God was calling him to return. As believers, we are all capable of hearing that voice. We usually know when it’s time to lay something down or move on to something new. God is not the author of confusion, He wants to make His will known to us. I believe we can make it difficult at times, wavering back and forth between what we know to be true and what we think we want.