The first eight years of my life I had the privilege of living in many different places, some of them exotic, some beautiful, some cold, some strange, some familiar. Perhaps you had a similar upbringing. I cherish those experiences.
One of the places I lived was a small town in North Carolina, called Montreat. Montreat was a great place to grow up as a child because we were able to explore the streams, mountain paths, forests and allow our imagination to run wild in what could easily be the land that time forgot.
One thing unique about this town was that it had a gate as you drove in and as you drove out. Everyone had to drive through the gate, and everyone had to drive out the gate. There was no other way to access this little slice of Heaven. Once in a while you would hear of a story where someone did not maneuver the gate too well, and the gate and driver had to be restored.
I have fond memories of that gate. To this day it exists, and every time I go back to this town, the journey through the gate is a journey through time.
Passing through the gate
I have been thinking about gates lately and how often they exist in our lives. A gate represents a passage from one place to another and seems to bring everything into focus for just a few seconds. I remember as a child going through the gates at Walt Disney World, and with great excitement, being transported from one world to another. I think about the gate I go through when I board an airplane, taking me from one city to another.
Gates are not always made of bricks, stone or turnstiles. Sometimes gates can be symbolic, more emotional than physical. I think of a wedding, a graduation, a funeral, a divorce, a new job and the like. There are very similar patterns that we experience as we go through these gates. Every gate has a focal point, every gate has a purpose, and every gate seems to send a message.
Gates also tend to serve a portfolio of different experiences and emotions each time you go through one. For example as a traveler coming home, a gate is a welcome site, yet if you have just said your goodbyes to your loved ones, a gate may make you sad. A gate invokes a different emotion based upon which direction you are going through it. Sometimes there is a sense of excitement, sometimes a sense of dread. Rarely do you experience the same emotion as you journey through a gate.
One emotion you experience going through a gate is often loneliness. Sometimes you experience it for just a brief second, like the green flash of a Florida summer sunset. Other times it lingers like a damp and foggy mountain mist. Either way, loneliness makes its appearance. I wonder why? My best guess is that in order to go through the gate, there is a moment where you must go through it alone. That moment, again ever so brief or not, is monumental for you. You are making a statement, a decision and a committed transition from one reality to another.
Gates in the Bible
Think about how this is demonstrated in the many glorious stories we find in the Bible. Take a moment and imagine your favorite story and find the gate or gates. When Moses decides to obey God’s calling on his life, when Naaman decides to bathe in the dirty river Jordan, when Joseph decides to not divorce Mary, when David decides to face Goliath, when Cain decides to kill Abel, when Lot decides to choose the “better land”, when Peter decides to deny Jesus, when Judas decides to betray Jesus, when Jesus ascends to Heaven, and the list goes on and on and on. Take time to see the lonely moment too.
I find that when I meet loneliness it does a few things for me. I am reminded how vulnerable I am. I don’t necessarily like that, but it is a good reminder. It keeps me humble. I know that many people battle significant loneliness, and the experience can be debilitating. Sometimes loneliness appears for “just a brief second, like the green flash of a Florida summer sunset and other times it lingers like a damp and foggy mountain mist.” Loneliness is real yet it can serve a purpose. I find that in addition to loneliness serving as a reset and reminder, I am also compelled to yearn for more of God, drawing me closer to Him.
Do you remember that amazing promise that God makes when He says to Joshua (Moses’ heir apparent), “I will never leave your or forsake you”? That proclamation is shared at a time when Joshua is getting ready to enter into his God promise. The promise is as true today as it was then. God actually says much more to Joshua in that conversation. He also says to “not be afraid or discouraged.” I think that when God makes that promise, He is alluding to the gates that He knows Joshua will pass through, and similarly, we will pass through. Sometimes we will be afraid or discouraged, sometimes we will falter or second-guess the gate. We will experience loneliness and sometimes we may hesitate to proceed. However, we are reminded of those amazing promises of God.
What is your gate?
Therefore, what gate are you going through today? Have you stopped long enough to relish the emotions that you are experiencing as you go through the gate? What is God trying to reveal to you about His character and His promise as you go through the gate?
I am sure that when my grandfather (Billy Graham) passed through that gate in Montreat, North Carolina, he experienced the same emotions you feel as you pass through your gate. Perhaps he had just said his goodbyes and was heading to some foreign country, knowing the travel would be difficult and the work nonstop but God was with him. Perhaps he was returning from a long stay away and was looking forward to the loving embrace of his wife and children, some good home cooked food and a comfortable bed. Either way, I am sure the reminders were there. We are vulnerable, and we so desperately need to draw close to our loving Father.
One quick last note, I mentioned above that once in a while someone going through the gate of Montreat would not maneuver it too well and have an accident. The gate and the person needed to be restored. Therefore, if you have not maneuvered a gate very well, give yourself some grace. God is good at restoring our gates and our lives.
Stephan N. Tchividjian is the president and founder of the National Christian Foundation South Florida. Visit southflorida.ncfgiving.com to learn more. Read more articles by Stephan Tchividjian at goodnewsfl.org/author/