Learning to Wander Well


- Brad Nelson

Last week my wife and I and our two daughters packed up everything we owned and moved 1500 miles from Michigan to Florida—the land of gators and palmetto bugs, which, as it turns out, is really only a fancy way of describing enormous cock roaches. I chased a gecko around the house, finally capturing it and removing it on our first night. On day two I killed a three foot long snake in the back yard. Not exactly a land flowing with milk and honey. Still, I’m of the mind that in addition to Christ’s resurrection, a palm tree is one of the most tangible signs that God’s future has burst into the present.

Transition is exhausting. There was getting our home in Michigan ready to show for potential buyers. There were the endless phone calls to cancel services, forward medical records, coordinate with the realtor and the moving company. Then there was the holy privilege leaving well, and saying goodbye to so many dear friends—acknowledging both the beauty of what had been and the reality that what will be is going to look different. We arrived to find our rental home in disarray. It was filthy. My mother, who came along to help out, actually found twenty-three cents and four bobby pins resting at the bottom of one toilet bowl. The walls needed washing and painting. The floors needing scrubbing, and the boxes were never ending. And now here we are trying to set up all of things we spent so much time undoing in Michigan: doctors, internet service, trash service, and the list goes on. And even though we’re beginning to slowly settle in, there are still moments a fear inside whispers, “What have you done?”

It has been an experience of living in the in between. We are no longer in the world we left behind nor are we truly in the world that we left in search of. There are all kinds of questions and uncertainties that give my soul pause: Will our home in Michigan sell quickly or will we have to carry the burden of double mortgage payments? Will my daughter’s development suffer moving from such a great school to a school we know almost nothing about? Will I be received and find my voice in a new community of faith like I was in the previous one? 

In truth, I have always liked the idea of faith much more than the living of it. God calls Abram (who becomes Abraham) to leave everything he knows and go to “a place that I will show you.” Can you imagine that? God tells him to go without specifying a destination, and crazier still Abraham does go. Genesis chapters 12-22 recount his travels, and his faith lands him in Hebrews 11, a chapter some have called the Faith hall of fame. The text says, “All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted they were aliens and strangers on earth.” Aliens. Strangers. Wanderers. And it’s worth pointing out that wandering is exactly the way Abraham understood what God had asked him to do. Speaking to King Abimelech in Genesis 20 he says, “And when God had made me wander.” The Hebrew word for wander is the word hit’u, a word whose range of meaning can sometimes include “to wander,” “to err,” or in some cases “to wander about as a drunkard.” 

That makes sense to me because that is what living in transition feels like: Stumbling forward through the in between in the general direction of what will be, drunk on uncertainty. Then I noticed something about Abraham’s wandering that I had never seen before. As he wanders, he builds altars.

At Shechem, Bethel, Hebron, and Moriah Abraham builds altars. In addition to being places of sacrifice, altars also were ways of marking encounters with the Divine. It seems subtle, but I think that for Abraham faith was a process of learning to wander well, discovering that God kept showing up along the way. And as we have occupied this wandering world of faith, we’ve been learning that being people of faith means learning to trust not that things will work out precisely as we want them to, but that God is with us, here and now, and that God is leading us toward something—the right thing—whatever it may be and whatever path it may take to get us there. So as we navigate the liminal spaces of life may we all have eyes capable of seeing the God who is present and hands ready to build altars to mark the encounter because God’s past faithfulness is the best indicator of his future faithfulness. 


Brad is currently the pastor of formation at Church of Hope in Ocala, Florida and served on the pastoral staff at Mars Hill Bible Church, Grandville, Michigan for 8 years. A speaker, writer, and student at Western Theological Seminary (MDiv), he and his wife Trisha are the proud parents of two beautiful daughters, Braylen and Clara.

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Contact Brad at nelson.bradleyj@me.com.