In Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books, we encounter two opposite impulses embodied in Laura’s parents. Pa is a restless wanderer moving his family ever west in search of more space, more freedom, and complete self-reliance. Ma is obedient to her husband’s wishes, but her heart is still back in New England where her family remains. Just when the family settles in one place and the land is tamed and things are beginning to work smoothly, just when Ma’s workload gets a little lighter because the house is built, the barn is secure, and the vegetable garden is established, Pa announces the family is leaving that all behind and heading back out on the trail to chase the horizon.
As Americans, we admire Pa and leave Ma to fret about Indian attacks and the children’s education. Or we pretend we do. Or we do while we’re yet young and unattached. But when we have established homes and jobs and families of our own, the pull of the horizon must war with the pull of the earth beneath our feet. We begin to see the sense in staying where we are. We begin to see all that open land not as welcoming us but as waiting to destroy us.
So we stay in jobs we dislike for 30 years in order to feed and clothe our families and keep our health insurance (well, maybe not that anymore…). It would be a different thing, we say, if we were single or childless. We take the path of least resistance and claim that it must be God’s will for our lives because we encounter no obstacles (if that’s your view, go check out 1 Corinthians 16:9 and note the word and). We keep plodding through and put out of mind that there may be something else for us.
Is there something you have been putting off for fear that your life will be disrupted? Or that you may fail? The Ingalls family never quite made it to where Pa wanted to go. I’m not sure even reaching the Pacific Ocean would have quelled his wanderlust. In fact, they had to turn back east and retreat for a time. But that never seemed to stop Pa. And though they encountered hardship most of us can’t imagine nowadays, they also experienced the pride of being trailblazers.
It’s hard to balance contentment with one’s circumstances and the drive to get that dream job or live in that dream city or pursue that dream degree. The status quo is so comfortable, so cozy, so easy. Why would we want to mess with that?
Still, if you have gifts and you aren’t using them or you’re not using them to the extent you believe you should, maybe it’s time to venture out of your shell and take the plunge into the unknown. If an opportunity presents itself to you and your first instinct is to retreat into your shell and wait for it to go away, maybe it’s time to be brave and take on the challenge.
There will be obstacles. There will be long winters, rushing rivers, millions of grasshoppers, prairie fires and chimney fires, people who resent you, and family that doesn’t quite understand. There will be hard work and hard weather. But there will also be satisfaction and joy and adventure.
Case in point: I have submitted a few of my short stories this year to a number of contests and gotten a number of emails that include the words, “We’re sorry, but…” And yet, last night I got an email from one of those contests that told me I am a finalist! And that email was from The Saturday Evening Post. Even if I don’t win, I still got that far, I may end up in their anthology, I now have contact with the editor there who likes my work, and I can add this information to my bio as I query other magazines, editors, or agents.
But if I hadn’t taken the plunge and risked lots of rejection, I could never have gotten this far.
Is opportunity knocking? Why not crack the door and at least give it a chance to talk.