How to Plan for an Unexpected Journey
By Sarah Arthur
December 17, 2012
Sarah Arthur is the best-selling author of Walking With Frodo and an unabashed Tolkien junkie. Learn more at her website.
So, what are your plans for tomorrow? Seriously—what’s on your calendar for the day?
Perhaps it’s a regular program of school or work or household chores: get up, take a shower, get dressed, eat breakfast, prop yourself up with a little caffeine, head to whatever it is you do every day, then move through the regular routine. Or maybe it’s the weekend, in which case the routine shifts and there are more open blocks of time to be spontaneous.
Whatever the case, it’s important to ask yourself this question: Can I say with reasonable certainty that things will go as planned?
When you stop and think about it, how predictable is life? All of us can remember a day when an unexpected event threw off our entire routine—if not our entire existence. Perhaps it was a life-altering phone call about the illness or death of a loved one. Maybe it was only a temporary frustration, such as the hot-water heater breaking down in your dorm or the fire alarm going off at 2 a.m. Even the most carefully crafted vacation contains elements of surprise: a detour on the highway, a delayed plane, a lost reservation, a missing piece of luggage.
When you stop and think about it, how predictable is life?
This inability to predict what’s coming is especially true when we’ve left the normal routine and set out on the journey of faith. We may have a rough idea of what’s in store, but this is an adventure, after all, and if you could predict the events that take place at every stage in the journey, the story wouldn’t really be worth telling, would it?
This brings us to the unexpected and unpredictable adventure of Mr. Bilbo Baggins.
J.R.R. Tolkien doesn’t tell us much about the company’s visit in chapter 3 to the Last Homely House, Master Elrond’s abode in Rivendell. The author’s explanation is that peaceful days hold little interest to the readers of an adventure story. True enough! So Tolkien skips to the discussion about Thorin’s map, and soon after that, the next stage of the journey begins.
After Rivendell, the company heads into the mountains and the Wild. This is the same mountain chain Frodo and the Fellowship encounter with Gandalf so many years later, though Bilbo’s journey takes place far to the north of the Mines of Moria. But the scenario is almost exactly the same both times: The travelers head up the mountain trail and encounter a fierce storm that forces them to either take shelter (as in The Hobbit) or turn back (as in The Fellowship of the Ring). And both times they somehow end up inside a mountain, trapped within the realm of goblins (orcs) and unsure of how to escape alive.
But before any of this happens in The Hobbit, as the company gets closer and closer to the mountains, Gandalf suspects that “something unexpected might happen.” Notice Tolkien’s wonderful little joke: The unexpected is something you don’t expect. If you expected it, it wouldn’t be unexpected anymore! Yet we can relate to Gandalf’s feeling of unease. Something is going to happen that you haven’t planned for, but you’re not sure what that something is.
Once again, we hear echoes of the Gospel narrative in this snippet of hobbit adventures in Middle-earth—not because Tolkien intended it, but because all adventure stories have this in common: They’re unpredictable. Life is a plot we can’t guess or anticipate.
Life is a plot we can’t guess or anticipate.
Jesus, the Master Storyteller, knew He had to prepare His followers for the unexpected—even for those things that, to their minds, would seem disastrous but were part of God’s overall plan. Not only did He instruct his followers to travel light and trust in God to take care of them, but Jesus also warned about getting too confident about what each day would bring. Even the things the disciples were looking forward to, such as the return of the Messiah to conquer their enemies and reclaim the throne of the world, could not be mapped out on a calendar. “Know this,” Jesus said: “A homeowner who knew exactly when a burglar was coming would not permit the house to be broken into. You must be ready all the time, for the Son of Man will come when least expected” (Luke 12:39-40).
There also were impending events the disciples wanted to avoid altogether, if possible, not the least of which was the very real possibility that Jesus could be arrested and even killed. Their sense of unease grew stronger as Jesus drew closer and closer to Jerusalem in those last weeks. Yet Jesus knew that whatever happened, God was in charge. They were in God’s hands.
A handful of clichés sum it up well: Life is not predictable. Expect the unexpected. As Gandalf understood, even the best-laid plans can fall apart. We do not know what tomorrow will bring, nor can we say with certainty what God is up to in our lives. But whatever the case, we are in God’s hands, even when our plans appear to go astray.
Excerpted from Walking with Bilbo by Sarah Arthur © 2005, all rights reserved. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.