He was smiling from ear to ear when I pulled in their driveway. Our dog Buddy’s morning romp had taken him to the neighbor’s house.
Buddy was pretty pleased with himself, but I was none too happy. I got him into the back seat of my car, apologized profusely to my (new) neighbor and drove back down the road to our house, scolding our wayward pet all the way. Buddy just continued smiling and panting.
We live on a farm with over 100 acres of countryside ripe for roaming, but our dog apparently isn’t satisfied with all he could explore and examine within his own property lines. He is drawn to “forbidden territory” and doesn’t care when or if he returns home. Buddy’s urge to run has caused him to break both a chain and a leash in the past, and to bolt whenever he’s given the chance.
I know Buddy loves us, and he isn’t really running FROM us. The problem is what he’s running TO.
I’ve done a bit of running in my day. Running from commitment, from responsibility, from difficulty, from truth. Avoiding conflict, escaping consequences, hiding from myself and from those who love me — that’s running, too.
When the going gets tough, some of us choose to just “get outta Dodge.” (Gunsmoke fans and those of a certain age will know what I mean.)
But when I think about all my running, I realize that much of the time, it isn’t what I’m running from that’s the problem. It’s what I’m running to.
- The approval of someone who doesn’t really know me.
- The comfort of distraction from pressing problems.
- The temporary satisfaction of food, movies, shopping. (Yes, shopping.)
- Freedom from expectations and consequences.
I have a deep love for prodigals — those who run when the going gets tough, thinking they’ll find fame and fortune, truth and answers, a better life somewhere down the road. When pressed, they might be able to tell you what they’re running from, but more likely their focus is on what they’re running to.
I love and understand them because maybe I can relate.
Jonah was a reluctant Old Testament prophet who became a runaway prodigal. He wound up in the belly of a whale.
“The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: ‘Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.’ But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord.”
Jonah booked himself on a cruise to Tarshish, a mining town over 2,000 miles from his homeland, figuring it would be far more fun than preaching in nearby Ninevah. He was on the run, choosing the unknown over the known, adventure over God’s orders.
What Jonah was running TO became a bigger problem than what he was running FROM.
Jonah’s flight nearly cost him his life, literally and figuratively, because, his running was an act of disobedience that led to the Lord’s dissatisfaction and displeasure. In the end, the Lord rescued Jonah (sorry for the spoiler), dusted him off and told him he still had to go to Ninevah. Jonah obeyed and the Lord spared the lives of the sinful Ninevites.
Just like Jonah, we think we can run away to something better, easier, more fun and less demanding, when in truth we can’t run far enough to escape God’s plan.
“‘Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him?’ declares the LORD. ‘Do I not fill heaven and earth?’ declares the LORD” (Jeremiah 23:24)
Our dog Buddy is motivated by a case of early “spring fever.” What he’s running to will turn out to be nothing but trouble, but we’ll always go after him, bring him back and try to help him see that he can’t continue his prodigal adventures. After a little dusting off and some stern discipline, we’re hoping he’ll learn not to run.