I have been on a journey with my son for over seven years. Since he was three years old, we have endured heart-wrenching struggles and difficulties. We have fought for answers that never come. All of this searching has culminated in a hotel room in Jacksonville, Florida where we have come to seek a solution and a path for desperately needed change. And as I lay in a hotel bed tonight, it struck me that this journey strangely mirrors another journey I took seventeen years ago and it brings me an exhilarating sense of anticipation mingled with promise.
In 1994, my brother and I spent six weeks in Europe and Africa. One week of our stay was spent on the small island of Zanzibar located just off the coast of Tanzania. The island is the native home of the Zanzibar Red Colobus monkey and we were determined to find the primate in its natural environment. We stayed in a small hut on the beach and it wasn’t long before a group of school kids offered us the chance to realize our dream. For a mere one thousand shillings, they would take us to the infamous Monkey Cave where we would discover droves of Red Colobus. So we handed over the money and began our quest. After walking along the beach for nearly a mile, however, we diverged into a local village where we ducked under clotheslines and through fenced yards. Another half mile later we found ourselves in grassy plains under a sweltering sun. Still another mile into the journey we descended into the island forest. Needless to say, the journey was a bit confusing. At each landscape, we expected the destination and yet, each landscape brought only more questions and frustration. Our anxiety grew while our hope waned. At long last, we approached the Monkey Cave with giddiness and delight. And low and behold there wasn’t a single monkey to be seen. We turned to our guides in disappointment only to have them tell us, “Sorry, no monkeys today.”
Seventeen years later, I am on another journey to a different Monkey Cave and it could not be more ironic. Like my excursion through the landscapes of Tanzania, this journey has found me traversing landscapes that I never expected. I have encountered struggles and obstacles I could not have imagined. I have walked the vast and beautiful beaches of God’s provision but I have also trudged through the oppressive plains of His perceived absence. I have trespassed through the territories of friends and family and found comfort in their backyards. I have wandered through the woods of doubt and desperation seeking His face around every tree trunk and boulder.
After all this, I have arrived at the Monkey Cave. And I am terrified. I am paralyzed by the fear that after such a long journey, after such a shattering struggle, I will find no monkeys. I am gripped by a panic that my God will turn to me and say, “Sorry, no monkeys today.”
But while the fear is staggering at first, the truth slowly moves me to hope. You see, my God is not a god of false hope. He is not a god who asks us to follow and then has nothing for us. In fact, He always has more than we hoped for. We plod along hoping for mere survival while God, in His majesty and graciousness, has victory in His back pocket. We give Him our shillings and, in return, He gives us life in abundance.
I am reminded of Joseph, another sojourner who may identify with the Monkey Cave. What began as a sure road to fame and fortune moved swiftly to a cruel joke, to slavery, to servitude and eventually to imprisonment. I expect Joseph didn’t anticipate any of that. I expect every twist in his story brought questions and confusion. I imagine that a dark prison cell found him wrestling with the faithfulness of his God and the purpose in his predicament. Yet the end of the story is glorious, isn’t it? While Joseph hoped to merely endure his circumstances, God’s story usurped those lowly ambitions and painted a breathtaking picture of deliverance and blessing. As he announced himself to his brothers he declares in Genesis 45: 5, “And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life.” God sent him to preserve life. Life. That’s what Joseph found in his monkey cave. Profound, gracious life. Joseph didn’t just see a few monkeys, he had monkeys crawling all over him.
Psalms 119: 49-50 says, “Remember your word to your servant, in which you have made me hope. This is my comfort in my affliction, that your promise gives me life.” Scripture is full of promises for our good. Full of promises for our protection and provision. Full of promises for our salvation. Full of promises that the Monkey Cave is not empty.
Tonight I will find rest in that. Tonight I will find comfort in God’s promise of life. I know very well that I may not be at the end of the journey. Tomorrow may reveal just another clothesline to duck under or a new terrain altogether. But eventually, I will reach the Monkey Cave and when I do, I will kneel with my hands held high and my head bowed low. I will humbly thank the God who brought me there and declare His monkeys glorious.