I left home in 1988. I had already graduated from college… but had been a commuter student. I still remember the day that I flew out of the TriCities airport in East Tennessee heading toward seminary in California and freedom.
It was a huge moment for me. I was finally on my own. On the plus side: all decisions were now my own; plans didn’t need to be checked with anyone; and I could set my own bedtime. On the minus side: all decisions were now my own; plans didn’t need to be checked with anyone; and I could set my own bedtime.
I was older than some of you were when you left home. Perhaps it was when you went to college or when you got your first apartment or when you got married. But still there was this mixture of loneliness and joy and wonder and terror. The only way was forward… but forward was so unknown.
Jacob here is a biblical character in a time of transition. He has had to leave everything he knows and set out to find his future. There is no indication in the story thus far that Jacob believes in the God of his father… at least at this point in his life.
Maybe some of you relate. In church you know all the right answers to keep others believing that you still believe. But you are really just relying on mom and dad’s faith. You haven’t personally flexed any spiritual muscles yourself. Let me warn you: the path ahead of you is going to test it.
Here are two tips for you (or for you to share with a certain someone) regarding leaving home:
You are going to be trying to climb the ladder of success in whatever field you pursue. Better wages, better advantages, more vacation time and a slew of other things will tempt you to jettison your morals and values to attempt to pull yourself up just one more rung up in the corporate climb. And it isn’t just the perks. “Money is…” Dennis Kozlowski (ex-CEO of Tyco convicted of stealing some $600 million from the company) stated “…just a means of keeping score.”
But remember the words of Jack Higgins, the renowned author of The Eagle Has Landed, who once said that the one thing he knows now at this high point in his career that he wished he had known as a small boy is this: ‘When you get to the top, there’s nothing there.’
Note what happens in Jacob’s story:
10 Then Jacob departed from Beersheba and went toward Haran. 11 He came to a certain place and spent the night there, because the sun had set; and he took one of the stones of the place and put it under his head, and lay down in that place. 12 He had a dream, and behold, a ladder was set on the earth with its top reaching to heaven; and behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.
Jacob sees a different ladder here. It wasn’t one leading to riches and wealth and fame. After his attempt at being Esau, he is run out of town.. sent out to seek his fortune with just his staff in his hand. He didn’t even have time to bring his camping pillow… a rock had to do.
But there in the wilderness Jacob saw a vision of the ladder which leads to true blessing. Before him stands the famous “Jacob’s ladder.” Perhaps you’ve heard of it or grown up singing about “climbing Jacob’s ladder.” But if you notice here… Jacob isn’t anywhere on this ladder.
Here is Jacob… so used to grabbing for what he wants… receiving the blessings of God… with his feet still on the ground. When we gather in worship on Sunday morning it is a time when we step off the ladders of success we are faced with in school or on the job every day… and we approach the ladder to heaven by which God blesses our lives. And we learn it is all received by grace.
16 Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.” 17 He was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”
Leaving Home for many means leaving childhood behind… church and God as well. Because those things aren’t… well… relevant . God is something from childhood… best forgotten. But the best thing about Jesus is that he comes to us where we are at EVERY STAGE of our lives. What lay ahead for Jacob? He had yet to find a wife… a job… colleagues… friends… wealth… purpose. And it was there that he met God on his journey.
Now is the day for you to have that epiphany! God is right there with you at the study desk… When you are choosing electives…. When you are deciding what you want to do with your weekend. But we miss him because we fail to use proper disciplines in our lives… attending worship services… reading the Bible… Prayer… hanging out with Christian friends.
Philip Yancey: “I have learned to see prayer not as my way of establishing God’s presence, rather as my way of responding to God’s presence that is a fact whether or not I can detect it. .. prayer means keeping company with God who is already present.”
As I think about it… we all need these two tips. These temptations might be crucial to deal with when leaving home… but they continue throughout our lives.
Are you climbing the right ladder to the blessing? Are you aware of God’s presence along the way? I’ll say it again: “Today is the day for that epiphany!”