Wanted: Adventurous individuals who are willing to settle new lands, survive in harsh conditions, subsist on few resources, and—quite possibly—make history.
Our generation's version of Lewis and Clark's transcontinental expedition or Magellan's seafaring journey has its charts set for a previously uninhabited planet: Mars. What once would have been a plot for a sci-fi flick is now a job opening.
The Dutch company Mars One is currently accepting applications for a mission to Mars…with a big catch. This trip requires applicants to sign on for a one-way ticket.
According to Mars One's cofounder Bas Lansdorp, the 7-8 month journey to the Red Planet will result in a significant loss of bone and muscle mass for astronauts. Plus, after spending any length of time in Mars' significantly weaker gravitation fields, travelers would find it almost impossible to reacclimate to the pull of Earth. So the team of astronauts will make the trip prepared to plant their own food on Martian soil, recycle human waste into water, and generate all their needed energy from the sun.
Who would take such a risk? Who would say a permanent goodbye to everyone and everything they've known in this world—family, friends, grass, blue skies, fresh fruit, running water, phones, animals…not to mention breathable air—for the sake of an experiment that has no guarantee of success?
Thousands have already applied to join the mission, and Mars One expects that this is only the beginning.
Whether we'd ever don a space suit ourselves, we have to admit there's something compelling about these individuals who are willing to "boldly go where no man has gone before." Applicants would undoubtedly cite various motivations for making a one-way trip to another planet: the thrill of adventure, the promise of fame, the prospect of embarking on something entirely unprecedented.
It could be argued that these individuals are merely trying to escape this world or are latching on to an unworthy—perhaps even foolhardy—cause, but they certainly give us plenty to ponder when it comes to our own level of commitment.
A Fading Virtue
Here in the gravitational pull of earth, commitment remains a rare commodity. There's no clear way to measure something so intangible, but statistics certainly point to a cultural decrease in commitment levels.
Just look at our relationships: More than 40 percent of first marriages in the United States end in divorce, and over the past two decades, the divorce rate has doubled for those 50 and over. Perhaps even more tellingly, over 10 percent of American couples don't pledge marriage vows at all.
People likewise seem to be growing more wary of the commitment of parenthood. In the wake of the recent economic recession, the nation's birth rate has slipped by 8 percent—to the lowest level in recorded history. A startling one-third of children in the United States live in a home without their fathers. Of those fathers who live apart from their children, two-thirds don't pay child support.
We aren't as loyal when it comes to the workplace, either. Whether because of a lack of commitment of employers to their employees or vice versa, the average worker stays at his or her job for only 4.4 years. Accordingly, Americans are making interstate moves at the highest rate since the early 1990s, and people change their church home even more frequently than they change their address.
In a world filled with halfhearted commitments or no commitments at all, perhaps there's good reason to be impressed by the kind of commitment required for one to spend the rest of his or her life on Mars. While those looking to embark on a Martian voyage may have any number of motives to give up everything for their cause, those of us who follow Christ live for a cause far more worthy of our wholehearted commitment. From the time the Lord made his covenant with Moses and the Israelites, he made it clear that he was "all in" with this relationship and that he expected the same from his people: "You must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today" (Deut. 6:6).
A Voice from the Desert
The Mars expedition reminds me of another committed group of people who journeyed—of their own volition—to a place far from home, to an environment marked by harsh conditions and a lack of luxuries that the rest of the population enjoyed.
These desert fathers lived in Egypt's Nitrian Desert starting in the 3rd century A.D. It was the first time in the history of the Roman Empire that it was safe to be a Christian. You'd think that on the heels of centuries of government-sanctioned persecution, Christ-followers would have basked in their newfound freedom and the comfort of being able to live in peace. But surprisingly, it was out of that positive cultural shift that the monastic movement was born. The desert fathers and mothers went into the Egyptian wilderness not to escape a difficult situation but to avoid one that was too comfortable
Anthony the Great, widely considered the father and founder of desert monasticism, moved to the desert in 270–271 A.D. By the time of his death several decades later, hundreds of monks and nuns had followed his example, leaving behind homes, careers, families, and creature comforts to devote themselves exclusively to God's work. Over the course of 300 years—up until the 7th century A.D.—hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world joined desert monasteries.
Even 2,000 years ago, people found something compelling about the kind of commitment that would inspire someone to leave all that was familiar to live in an unforgiving climate, where feasting was replaced by fasting, financial security was replaced by simplicity, and entertainment was replaced by prayer and service.
Made for Another World
Although it's typically the more dramatic displays of commitment that attract our attention, we don't have to move to the desert or join a mission to Mars to live out our commitments counterculturally. In whatever context we live in, we can be people who stay true to our vows and keep our promises. People who remain loyal even when it's inconvenient or uncomfortable—people who keep our end of business deals, put down roots, and go deep and long with the people we love.
We aren't able to accomplish such superhuman levels of commitment on our own strength—by digging deeper or trying harder. It's only by God's grace and the help of the Holy Spirit that we can reflect the rock-solid commitment God himself shows to us. That's a kind of commitment the world doesn't understand—but then again, we weren't made for this world. "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. . . . What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?" (Matt. 16:24-26).
When people look at us, will they see the glimmer of the explorer in us, the shadow of those early church fathers and mothers, in our willingness to live out sacrificial commitment? As followers of Christ, are we so committed to God and to people and to what we believe that we're willing to leave everything else behind?
Are we, in other words, the kind of people who would sign on for a one-way ticket?
Stephanie Rische is a senior editor of nonfiction books at Tyndale House Publishers, as well as a freelance writer for publications such as Today's Christian Woman, Christian Marriage Today, and Significant Living magazine. She and her husband, Daniel, live in the Chicago area, where they enjoy riding their bikes, making homemade ice cream, and swapping bad puns. You can follow Stephanie blog, Stubbing My Toe on Grace, at stephanierische.wordpress.com.
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