One of the unique things about the movie Forrest Gump is the way the movie divides itself up into chapters of his life. You have childhood, college, military service, ping pong, and shrimp boat captain, just to name a few. And while they all have their own important place in the development of the movie with a few common themes that connect them, there is one chapter that creates an interesting parallel with the lives that many struggling Christians find themselves living.
Early one morning Jenny had confessed to Forrest that she did love him, we find her inexplicably getting into a cab, bags packed, leaving for God knows where. Even the cab driver greets her with the question, “Where are you running off to”? Her answer was a firm yet unconvincing “I’m not running.” But despite saying the words, it is clear that she is, once again, running away from the only man she has ever known to love her unconditionally. As an observer, you feel frustrated by her actions mixed with sorrow for her inability to receive Forrest’s love. She is denying both her and Forrest the opportunity to live and love together. Instead, she made the choice to run.
Forrest awakes and is obviously confused by Jenny’s latest departure. As he sits on his porch and assess this change, he suddenly rises and begins running across his yard, down the street, and ultimately across the country several times. As the movie eventually tells us, Forrest ran for 3 years, 2 months, 14 days, and 16 hours (which is surprising to hear him say this – knowing a fact like that seems more consistent with Rain Man than Forrest Gump). This isn’t the first time Jenny left him, nor is it the first time he had to make a choice about what to do with his life, but at that moment, he made the choice to run.
What seems strange to me throughout this segment of the film is the followers Forrest gets. Consider the words of the first guy who decides to join him on his travels.
“It’s you. I can’t believe it’s really you. It was like an alarm went off in my head. I said, Here’s a guy that’s got his act together. Here’s somebody who has the answer. I’ll follow you anywhere, Mr. Gump.”
Is this guy serious? He heard about this guy who’s running back and forth across the country without any real reason or cause and decided to join him because he had figured things out. A lost soul in search of answers will look for them in some of the most interesting places, and so he made the choice to run.
All good runners have one thing in common: they have a destination in mind. It can be a place, a distance, or a time. But each of these runners seemed to be running for very different reasons. Forrest was surprised that people couldn’t understand this, but is it really so hard to understand? I think that if you bring things back into a proper perspective, it becomes easy to see how dangerous running can be.
Jenny was running away – away from her pain, guilt, and shame. She was unable to face what had happened before and the hurt gave her a deep sense of worthlessness. Because of her fear, she ran away from the best thing that she had been given. Sadder still is the fact that she knew it but still worked hard to justify her actions in terms that made sense to her. Her story is tragic because of the 2 lives that this would ultimately cost her. You see, she lost her physical life due to illness, but she also lost the life of love, peace, and joy that Forrest would have provided.
Speaking of Forrest, he too is a runner. His reason for running was no reason in particular. He tells you this. With TV reporters probing him with questions about why he was running, he explains, “I just felt like running.” No reason in particular – just something to do. Now even with Forrest’s limited intelligence he should have known that he had other options – focused purposes to explore, for that matter – spend some of that time running around looking for her. But no, he just ran. Barriers didn’t stop him – they merely turned him in a different direction. As he reached oceans, he said that he would turn around and keep on running. This sounds admirable – perseverance, sacrifice, dedication and initiative are all words you could use, but you could also say backtracking, retreating, and escaping. No, he wasn’t running away from something like Jenny – he was just running to move; passing the time until something else happened to give him reason to stop.
Our third runner is the young man who follows Forrest wherever he goes. This runner differs from the first two, but his rationale is equally empty. He runs simply to follow. He has no specific knowledge of where he should be going; of what he should do. So he started searching for what looked good and without stepping back and seeing the bigger picture – he ran with it. Think about it objectively – would you walk up to somebody you heard about on TV or read about in the Sunday paper and immediately drop everything in your life to follow him as his crossed the country doing nothing except running? This sounds absurd, but how many people do you know who have given away their life to someone else for one reason or another without a thought of the consequences that might follow?
God speaks clearly to our trio of runners, and to those of us who can relate to them.
For the Jennys who think they are strong enough to outrun their life’s hurts there’s Proverbs 3:5-6: “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.” Jenny – please don’t throw away what God is giving you. Stop running and let Him heal you, soften your heart, ease your fears, and let you know the fullness of what He has for you.
Our Forrests are given the words of Ephesians 2:10: ” For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Your life has a purpose. God made you with a specific destiny in mind. We must not waste time or energy simply being busy. We must seek out our purposes and pursue them boldly. Forrest – discover what it is you are supposed to learn in your current situation and use this knowledge to boldly move into the next chapter fully prepared for what God is bringing you.
And finally, for our hopeless follower looking for someone, anyone who can give him direction I offer Proverbs 28:5: “Evil men do not understand justice, but those who seek the LORD understand it fully.” The world answers questions with more questions that more often than not leave us unsatisfied. The Lord offers clarity and truth beyond anything the world can bring. Young Man – stop running, fall to your knees and seek the face and voice of God to give your life direction, focus, and clarity. In Him you will find the answers to every question you have.
Run with a purpose and a destination in mind – one established through by seeking God’s perfect will for our lives. Train with vigor – preparing yourself by following the regimen that God has given you. Finally, complete your work by running the race with all you have. Give everything so that in Him you may run victoriously, receiving your great and glorious reward from the One who desires that you never run away from Him.