Living in Hutto, one can’t help but experience the joy of trains – to the point that joy ceases to be the experience. Since the town is divided by railroad tracks, encountering trains is pretty much a daily occurrence. The audio tracks, pun intended, play their rap every quarter hour for those who live close enough. Paul Simon recorded a song with the refrain, “Everybody loves the sound of a train in the distance. Everybody thinks it’s true”. I’m not quite sure what he meant by everybody thinks it’s true but I can assure you that whatever he meant, it is not true that everybody loves the sound of a train, even in the distance.
It was this very thought that tunneled into my mind along with the train that accompanied it at about two this morning as I was having trouble sleeping. We are fortunate to be far enough away as to not notice the sound most of the time but lying awake in the quiet sleeping house is not one of those times.
I begin to think about what nuisance these trains were as the sound of the train invaded my consciousness. There is no station here in Hutto. They are not delivering or picking up cargo or passengers. There is no partnership with the city. Trains push through town bringing traffic to a halt and interrupting life with noise, yet they give nothing to the town. If you know anything about the railroad, you will know that they have huge power to do whatever they want – they are not under city, county or state jurisdiction. There are many crossing improvements that the railroad could make for this town of 20,000 that has the same number of crossings that it did when it only had 600. While the tide of trains through town is regular and frequent, improvements are slow to roll into town if they come at all.
Then I got to thinking that people are like this in many ways. Unless the people we encounter become passengers on our train, provide cargo we care about or are meeting us at one of our scheduled stops, we are usually just rolling through. In our busyness, we are moving too fast to stop, we have our schedule to keep, and I’ll be gone 500 miles when the day is done. I think we all understand this reality and we don’t think about it much.
Perhaps this phenomenon is a necessity of life, which by nature has a point of origin and a point of destination and the rails in between cannot help but be travelled each and every day. Occasionally we lament just like Steve Goodman did – “Half way home, we’ll be there by morning.… And all the towns and people seem to fade into a bad dream.…this train’s got the disappearing railroad blues”. We come to these places in the night and wonder about the switches in the tracks we didn’t take, knowing we are half way home and watching the rail fade away seemingly faster with each hour heading down to the sea and the morning light. Perhaps, we don’t think about it much because we just can’t bear it and we’re maybe a little scared of that final termination point. So we clear our minds and drop into the tunnel of sleep that emerges into bright daylight, the stoking up of engines, and a new day’s journey where the noise and heat of the rails overcome those quiet evening thoughts.
We certainly cannot be God and know each and every passenger, visit every town, haul all cargo. We must choose. In some sense, we don’t even really do that. We are more like passengers riding this rail for the first time knowing very little about where the rail will take us or what the odyssey will bring. Yet most of us act as if we are in complete control and like we own the railroad. We’d be wise to talk to those who had gone before us and even more so to the conductor who is always singing his song for us again hoping we will refrain from our assumed control of his job and would instead enjoy the ride and the interactions that come to us.
Perhaps our difficulty stems from our preoccupation with trying to run the railroad of our life when we are really only passengers. Jesus clearly had a purpose and was focused on it yet every interaction along the path was savored and given attention. He said things like – I only do what my Father tells me to do. So, if he found that God had put him alone at a well with a Samaritan woman – he demonstrated God’s love to her. If the Pharisees setup a trap for him by exploiting an adulterous woman, he loved them both enough to rescue them from the error of their ways without condemning either of them for their treachery. If a Centurion’s daughter needed healing, he would heal her while encouraging this “heathen” that he was actually a man of faith and simultaneously helping the assumed faithful realize their need for His faith.
If anyone’s track of life was well predicted, it was our Lord’s. There are over 300 prophecies concerning Jesus that he fulfilled. He was clearly aware of these too for he told men such as John the Baptist to perform actions they thought unnecessary for Jesus – because “it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness”. Jesus knew God’s vision for His life and was totally focused on it yet able to say in the same prayer both, “I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do.”, and, “I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word.” Purpose and people always went hand-in-hand with him.
Perhaps, if we will rest from “working on the railroad…all the live-long day”, we could realize that these interactions with other passengers is our primary work. We aren’t meant to “work on the railroad…just to pass the time away.” We are passengers with a purpose on a specific track, on a specific run, on a specific train. We can rest in our work when we let God do his, when we avoid lamenting about those tracks and trains we can’t ride and when we instead embrace in love those he has given us as we ride the rail of our life. Jesus was known for the way his love impacted other people and the life he lost, trusting God to raise him up. If we will be his disciples, we will have to give up our life to make time for Jesus to impact the lives of other people through us. Faith is trusting God that is we lose our life, he will resurrect us. This is what it is to deny ourselves daily, pick up our cross and follow Jesus.
As I wrote this, the rumble and ruckus of another train builds as it comes from the distance soon to diminish in the dark of the night on the other side of our town. The whistle blows to warn passengers it is crossing our path and for us, these are the only interactions. But for those riding the train, I hope there is much more as the expedition continues.
Lord, help me to rest in the joy of being a passenger on the train you have put me on. Keep me from wasting too much time staring out the window into the darkness or the whizzing-by world of wishful thinking. Help me trust you who knows the tracks and the course and the power of the engines of my life – that you have all that worked out and I can add nothing to it. Help me to enjoy the freedom you’ve given me in your rest in Jesus – to enjoy the companionship of the fellow passengers you’ve given me on this unique voyage of my life. Help me bring you glory in the awesome work of my life, living in Christ and loving and encouraging those you’ve given to me. Dear friends, get ready, there’s a train a coming, You don’t need no baggage, you just get on board. Don’t need no ticket, you just thank the Lord.