In 1881 the great Robert Louis Stevenson said, “to travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive, and the true success is to labor.” With all due respect to that much-celebrated novelist, I’ve never read a dumber idea.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m a happy, hopeful traveler. I am always ready to get back on the airplane, behind the wheel of the car, on board a train or boat or ferry. I’ve never ridden on a Segway scooter, but I suppose I’d even shoulder that indignity if it meant getting where I was going faster. But there has to be a destination in mind. Traveling just to travel is a wanton, ridiculous idea.
Similarly, I love to work. Most of the time, the things I’m doing at work are more interesting to me than my hobbies like golf, marathon training, or genealogy. I put in lots of long days and never feel like it’s a burden to go to work. Work is worship. Work is fun. But work is not an absolute value. You have to be working for something. The myth of Sisyphus is an ancient illustration of the agony that pointless labor represents. Look it up.
Last Sunday, I got up at 5:30 a.m. to run a marathon in Washington, DC. I traveled hopefully to the starting line. I should have taken the shuttle instead of dopily following the walkers, and I wound up walking a couple of miles before the marathon even started. As things turned out, I had to walk another 3 to 4 miles after the race ended. Then, because of the hurricane, I had to jump on a plane almost immediately after taking a shower and fly back to Seattle, through Dallas. Finally, I drove home on a wet highway and almost had an accident when I hit a flooded low area. I got to bed at 5:30 a.m.
It was truly a marathon day. The only thing that kept me going hopefully on the race course was the idea of arriving at the end. The only thing that kept me walking hopefully to my lodging was the idea of a warm shower. The only thing that led me hopefully to the end of eight-hours of flight, stuck in a middle seat, was the hope of arriving. When I got home, arrival was the sweetest thing that had happened all day.
Stephenson’s silly comment fails to grasp the very nature of hope. Hope that has no object is a cruel lie. Work that has no external reward saps all of the pleasure out of labor. Praise God, though, that we do not labor or travel as those who have no hope. When we walk in God’s dream for us, reality will always be better than dreaming.