A man who was both very successful and widely admired was approached by his young daughter, Allison, during a brief (and all too rare) moment between his vigorous business trips. She climbed into his lap and hugged him with the earnestness that only a small and adoring child can effortlessly muster.
“Daddy,” she began, her large brown eyes searching her father’s face. “You travel so much, I’m afraid you won’t come home one day. If something happened… to you I mean, would you go to heaven?”
For a moment he hesitated. Caught off guard like that, he was suddenly aware that he didn’t really know the answer to that question. “Well sure, honey. I’d go to heaven,” he finally replied, trying to be reassuring, but inwardly feeling a twinge of guilt as if he were lying. He knew he wasn’t a bad person as people go, but he also knew that there were places in his heart with corresponding moments in his past that had left a stain that he wasn’t sure God could overlook if that moment were to arrive. “Yes, I’d go to heaven,” he said again.
“That’s a relief, Daddy,” Allison chirped. She hugged him, climbed down and ran away to play. Her father stood up and quietly began packing for his next trip, profoundly disturbed.
That night, in his hotel room, he found a Bible. He opened it and began reading, his eyes finally running across Jesus’ parable in Luke 12 about a rich man who had big plans. When he read verse 12, his heart skipped a beat. “But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’”
He lay in his bed that night finding it difficult to sleep. Eventually, drowsiness overtook him and his eyes closed in slumber. Then he began to dream.
He dreamed that he was traveling along a highway with many lanes of traffic all moving in the same direction. At first the sky seemed clear but the farther he traveled the darker and gloomier it became. He looked to the right of the highway and occasionally saw exit signs which seemed to indicate a safer road to travel to a surer destination. Every so often he could see people taking such an exit to that surer road.
At first, he laughed at them and thought them foolish for missing out on all the opportunities that the fast-paced and well-traveled road offered. He glanced around him and felt reassured that he was not alone but was surrounded by countless others all traveling as he was. He noticed that those around him were accelerating and so he too began to speed up as he strived to keep up with the others. But distant voices seemed to call to him, appealing to him to leave the road he was on and to take the exit to the safe road. He ignored them, but noticed that the exits were becoming fewer and instinctively felt that the other drivers about him were determined that he remain in their midst.
His car sped up more and was then forced to the lane farthest from the exit ramps. Many of the drivers around him who had told him that he was wise in choosing the broad, well-traveled way now laughed openly at him, while a few others seemed to be as trapped and as frightened as he felt.
He noticed that the voices from the other road seemed either to be growing fainter or were being drowned out by the roar of cars charging along on the broad way. His eyes caught sight of another exit ramp and he realized that he could just make it if he would only turn. A pair of hands floated above him ready to take control and guide him to safety if he would simply release control to them. But he hesitated. After all, most of the other drivers were still traveling the broad path apparently without worry and he didn’t wish to look foolish to them. And he wasn’t sure that he was quite ready to give up control of his direction to anyone. He passed the exit sign.
Suddenly the road ended. He was alone and surrounded by nothing at all except gloom and an eerie silence broken only by the faint echo of mocking laughter from a shadow that had hidden in his back seat all along, urging him along this path to destruction and away from the safety that the guiding hands would have granted him had he only yielded.
He wanted to blame the shadow for encouraging him along the path that he had chosen. He wanted to blame the other drivers for trapping him in the lane away from the exits. He wanted to blame those who had taken the safer road for not warning him soon enough or loud enough. He wanted to blame the hands above him for not grabbing control and taking him to safety.
He wanted to and even tried to. But he knew down deep inside that he was the one to blame. He was the one who had made the choice to remain on the wide and easy way. The darkness intensified until it was an inky blackness. It surrounded him and began to smother him in painful tentacles of regret and grief. He realized that he was alone, utterly and inescapably alone and would always be so forever after. He cried out in despair.
He awoke screaming. His eyes opened and he sat straight up in bed. He looked at the alarm clock. One thought flashed through his mind. “I can still get off that road,” he thought. He remembered the cross of Jesus Christ and realized that he had found the exit ramp. He yanked the covers off himself, knelt down beside the bed and began to pray. “I don’t really know how to pray,” he said aloud, clenching his eyes shut. “But I know that You can hear me. I’ve avoided You all my life, trying to do what I thought best on my terms. I thought I could put You off or that maybe somehow I could measure up on my own merits. I know now that I was wrong, that I was rejecting You and what You did for me as You died on the cross. Please forgive me and be Lord of my life now.”
He stopped and took a deep breath. He opened his eyes and glanced up at the bed side table on which he had placed the Bible the night before. He picked it up and opened it to a verse that he had read earlier.
“But to all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12 ESV). He glanced at the alarm clock. It glowed 7:15 in bright red numbers. He smiled and picked up the phone and dialed his home.
“Good morning, honey,” he said when his wife answered. “Yes, I know it’s a bit early but I wanted to let you know that I just switched roads.” He chuckled at the sounds of confusion on the other end of the phone. “No, I’m in my hotel room. I just mean that I’ve given my life to Jesus…. Yes, I’m serious. Thank you for being patient with me… and for your prayers. Will you tell Allison when she wakes up? Tell her that I know for sure that one day I’ll definitely be going to heaven.”
Thom Mollohan and his family have ministered in southern Ohio the past 21 ½ years. He is the author of The Fairy Tale Parables, Crimson Harvest, and A Heart at Home with God. He blogs at “unfurledsails.wordpress.com”. Pastor Thom leads Pathway Community Church and may be reached for comments or questions by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.