On my first trip to Europe back in high school, I decided to send my girlfriend back home a rather clever (or so I thought) postcard. The words I penned were simple and few:
“Having a great time. Wish you were her.”
Oh did my male buddies on the trip howl. I’m sure I’d stolen the line from someone else, but to them, I was the epitome of sardonic wit. When word got out to the female members of our traveling group, the opinion was fairly divided. Some thought I was just an idiot. The rest thought I was a complete and totally insensitive idiot. Their reaction and the fact that none of my enthusiastically supportive male friends had a girlfriend of his own should have clued me in to the limits of so-called humor.
But no need. I got the clear message when I returned home. The reception from my girlfriend was about as warm and inviting as frozen worms. And the questions that followed regarding the motivation for the postcard would have made the Grand Inquisitor feel sheepish.
“Having a great time. Wish you were her.” Not words you want to write to a girlfriend as I found out. But ones, when seen from a different perspective, that ring true for many a traveler who has found that his or her choice of traveling companions turns out to be as wise as running with scissors. On ice. Barefoot.
Sometimes the person or people you travel with, the ones who are your best friends back home, turn out to be different people on a trip. The patient, sensitive neighbor at home turns out to be shrill and demanding in a foreign country. The gregarious pal you play basketball with every Tuesday becomes moody and withdrawn outside his comfort zones. Halfway through your trip, you’re asking yourself, “Can I get a do-over?”
You may be having a great time – or maybe not – but in any case, you wish these people were someone else, almost anyone else.
What went wrong? Was this the result of selecting the wrong companions? Or is there something more going on?
If you want a trip to be meaningful, it helps to look beyond your initial reactions to others and re-evaluate the purpose of the trip. Is it to have fun and see all you can of a new place or to discover something new about you? Usually it’s both, but we don’t always gain the personal insights by simply having a good time.
Sometimes God uses the people we travel with, even when they may be irritating or embarrassing us, to help us learn something new, not just about them but about ourselves. Distance from home and that old “iron sharpens iron” principle can do quite a number on us if we’re open to it.
The results may not be your typical definition of “fun” but if you travel with others in a way where you’re constantly asking God to show you what you can learn from them, you may be surprised at how your trip goes.
You may, in fact, pick up a postcard along the way and pen a message to other friends back home.
“Having a great time” you write. And you leave it at that.