Frodo of “The Lord of the Rings” grows up hearing of the adventures of his uncle Bilbo. Those stories spark a thirst in Frodo for his own adventures.
Growing up, my dad Gary seemed to be a bottomless source of stories of adventures that he’d been on – canoe trips through the Canadian wilderness, rescuing friends from suicide in the middle of the night, bullets whizzing overhead as he rehabbed a house in southwest Baltimore. And other men in my family had equally epic stories of courage, sacrifice, and adventure. My grandfather, Richard Muffoletto, was an engineer on a B-24 Liberator that flew missions over Europe in World War II. My Uncle Allan, a quadriplegic, moved his family into Sandtown, one of the roughest neighborhoods in Baltimore, and spent his life loving the people there in the name of Jesus.
Like any other young boy, I grew up pretending that those stories were my own. And as I’ve grown into a young man, I’ve put aside pretending and literally tried to mimic the adventures of my heroes, hoping to lead an equally significant life. But such a life is exhausting and difficult, trying to do things that I’m not good at or that I don’t enjoy – trying to be someone I’m not. Parker Palmer, quoted in “The Transformation of a Man’s Heart,” reveals that ” ‘I had simply found a “noble” way to live a life that was not my own, a life spent imitating heroes instead of listening to my heart.’ “
More and more I’ve realized that this is not a sustainable or honest way to live. I must be true to who God made me to be. “Old Rabbi Zusya said, ‘In the coming world, they will not ask me: “Why were you not Moses?” They will ask me: “Why were you not Zusya?” ‘ ” I don’t have to force myself to be someone I’m not. While I greatly respect and am thankful for the legacies of my father, grandfather, and uncle, I do not need to canoe through the wilderness, fight in an epic war, or dedicate my life to the city in order to lead a life of significance. Though I may do any or all of those things, I should do them not because of who God called my fathers to be, but because of who God has called me to be. Frodo learns that Bilbo’s journey was only the background of his own, not the blueprint.
As I’ve felt freer to follow the calling that God has on my life, I’ve been joyfully surprised to find that God has different adventures for me. I’ve had the privilege of working in advanced science laboratories for years on blue crabs and fruit flies. I’ve spent summers in southwest Baltimore and in China. I’m on InterVarsity staff at Hopkins, relying on God to provide through the generous prayers and support of others. I’ve sailed and kayaked the lakes and waterways of Minnesota and Florida with my beautiful wife and her family. And this is in all likelihood only the beginning of the adventures that God has in store for me and my family!
Who are the heroes that you look up to? What are the values and stories that you hold yourself to? And on what adventures has God already brought you?
*Quotes from “The Transformation of a Man’s Heart” pp. 99-100