An often-quoted line from the famous riddle in J. R. R. Tolkien’s fantasy classic, The Fellowship of the Ring, is “Not all who wander are lost.” The poem, as a whole, is a prophecy of Aragorn’s ascension to the throne.
All that is gold does not glitter
Not all who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.
The second line refers to Aragon’s travels. He was a part of a group called the Rangers, who were viewed as wanderers or vagabonds by those they actually protected from evil. They appeared to wander, but they were not lost. They were on a mission.
There are two very different ways to look at the word wander. One can mean “to move about aimlessly” or to drift, float or stray. People can wander and pursue all of the wrong things for all of the wrong reasons. Wander can also imply something completely different. Wander can also mean, “ to follow a winding course.” This is to chase, go after, or pursue a winding course. A wanderer can be a voyager, a person who takes risks, or an explorer, a trailblazer, a pathfinder, or a pioneer. It can be one who has made a purposeful decision to wander. This is far from aimless.
Rove is one of its synonyms suggesting, “vigorous and sometimes purposeful roaming.” This wanderer is unlike the one who loses their focus of the intended goal and begins to carelessly wander away from the right direction. This wanderer never loses their focus but realizes they must pull off of the main road and take a different one because they recognize a heightened significance of each step and this part of the journey will require extreme focus in order to stay the course. While searching for a path that will lead the way, it may appear that one is wandering, when in reality, it is a purposeful search. They are on a mission.
This is wandering with a purpose because you know that through the wandering, you will find the best path, and be wiser for the wandering. I am focusing on this type of wandering, which potentially propels us with more direction, aim, and purpose once we discover the path we are destined to blaze.
Many choose not to wander but to stay on the main road because traveling on winding roads makes them nervous. The shortest distance between two points may be a straight line but often times can also be a missed opportunity by not taking the winding road. Sometimes all we need is a change of scenery, away from the noise, to help us see the path ahead more clearly and gain a renewed sense of purpose for the direction we are traveling. Jesus rarely took the shortest distance between two points.
Being led by the Holy Spirit, Jesus wandered in the desert before launching full speed ahead into his life’s purpose. His wandering was far from aimless. The Holy Spirit can also lead us during our times of wandering. As God revealed His commission to Christ while he wandered in the desert, God can reveal His commission to us while we wander, if we are able to hold our focus on Him. Having all other distractions of life stripped away, wandering can be a time of intense guidance from God.
Wandering is usually not done in crowds or even in small groups. Wandering is usually a journey of one. Often times, wandering even appears to go against the flow. It is one person, pulled away from the mainstream, even going against mainstream, allowing time for observation, deliberation, circumspection, reflection, and retrospection.
Years ago, my late husband was heading off to the mountains in Colorado for a spiritual “boot camp” sponsored by Ransomed Heart Ministries. Before leaving, I gave him a t-shirt that read, “Not all who wander are lost.” It had an image of a pair of hiking boots under it. In my mind, the boots implied that one needs a good pair of walking shoes in life in order to go down all the roads where life may lead, if we allow it to guide us. I also gave him a wristband with a small compass attached as a symbol for keeping his life, his wanderings, his priorities, and his goals heading in the right direction. He was choosing purposeful wandering while chasing after God and the winding road that lay before him. He was willing to take the risks that came with wandering. He was never lost. Every step had a purpose. Keeping his eyes straight ahead with every step he took on his journey… He was on a mission.
It appears to some that I am wandering. I am wandering, but not aimless wandering. I am wandering with a purpose. By uprooting my family, eighteen months after the death of my husband, and moving us somewhere in the Hudson River Valley of New York, where we did not know a sole, I was choosing “to follow a winding course.” I chose to pull away from the noise, the mainstream, and even go against mainstream, in order to wander with God on this winding road for healing of our wounded hearts and restoration of our lives. I chose to allow time for observation, deliberation, circumspection, reflection, and retrospection. I trusted God that he would hold my hand and reveal to me the next phase and purpose for our lives.
I may be wandering, but I am not lost. I am on a mission.