June 2011: Travel . . . Travail

The Travailer

No, I didn’t spell “traveler” incorrectly.  The word “travel” comes from an old English word “”travail,” meaning “very hard labor and toil.”  “Travail” comes from a Latin word tripalium,” meaning “three stakes used as an instrument of torture.”  Kind of an interesting study of word origins, huh?  Where am I going with this?  I’m glad you asked.  With our modern cars, ships, and airplanes and our many fine restaurants and posh hotels, ground travel today in many nations on planet earth is not difficult—downright easy in many cases.

Yes, I realize that ground travel is still difficult, too, in some nations, but I’m trying to make a point here about most travel, especially in the “olden days.”

For example, in the Middle Ages in Europe when the word was “travail,” roads were poor and places to eat and sleep were far apart. Travel was hard, uncomfortable, and laborious—even torturous and dangerous in many cases.  As noted above, our word “travel” comes from a Latin word that meant “torture.” Many devices were used in the Middle Ages for torture in an effort to force confessions from persons accused of crimes and religious heresy.  One of these devices, called in Latin a tripalium, gave us our English word, “travel.”  The word, tripalium, literally “three stakes,” was derived from Latin “tri,” meaning “three” and “palus,” meaning “stake.” 

This word is thought to have been the source of the Latin verb, “tripaliare,” meaning “to torture.”  In early French the word became “travailler,” with both the meaning “to torment” and the meaning “to work at hard labor.”  Then this early French word was taken into Middle English as “travailen,” with the meaning “to work hard” and “to travel.” In time these two meanings became separated into different words, “travail,” meaning  “hard work,” and “travel,” meaning  “to go on a trip.” 

Travail Across South Dakota

In the 1870’s, my great-grandparents, William and Jennie Boylan, “travailed” by covered wagon from north central Iowa to western Dakota Territory where they each  homesteaded  160 acres of free land only a few miles north of where I am inputting these words into my computer 130 years later.  One can cross South Dakota these days in about 5 or 6 hours on Interstate 90.  By contrast, it took my great-grandparents an entire summer to cross the territory in a covered wagon pulled by mules.  If they traveled across Dakota Territory on any sort of path, often those paths would be pocked with mud holes deep enough to sink a wagon to the axles. 

Hard rains in the eastern part of the Territory could have held them up.  There may have been terrible thunderstorms—with damaging hail.  In those days, often their food supply could spoil with the dampness.  To supplement their food supply, I’m sure they ate berries, bird eggs, rabbits, pheasants, turkeys, and other wild game they killed along the way.  What a relief it must have been finally to arrive at their destination along the eastern edge of the beautiful Black Hills.  Now with interstate highways crossing both South Dakota and Iowa from east to west, the same journey can be made very comfortably in a plush, air-conditioned vehicle in approximately seven hours, even less time by airplane!

Travailing Travelers

I’ve been writing about early travel as being “travail” to make a point.  The point is this:  our travels through this life far too often involve travail, and even torture at times.  I mean both real travail and torture experienced by millions of Jesus-believers throughout 2,000 years of church history.  And I also mean inner travail and torture simply because we’re mortal, human travelers journeying through this life from conception to death.  Another interesting meaning for the word travail in the Bible is “to labor in order to give birth or to bring forth a new thing.”  

Sometimes our travail (travel) gives birth to something new in our lives.  I could write an entire issue about that definition of travel, but I’ll save that for another time.  I want to point out to you that this very moment you are reading these words many thousands of Jesus-believers around the world are being imprisoned, tortured, and even killed because of their faith in Jesus.  More Jesus-believers are suffering these days because of their faith in Jesus than at any other time in 2,000 years of church history!

Those of us who comprise the so-called “western church” of Europe and North America are not suffering in that manner.  We feel if someone laughs at us for our faith in Jesus or criticizes a bumper sticker about Jesus, we are “suffering for Jesus.”  Incidentally, if you doubt my statement about real torture and travail of Jesus-believers in the world today, simply go to your computer search engine and type in the words “Christian martyrs,” or “persecution,” or similar words.  You’ll be deeply saddened from what you learn on the internet . . .  

So . . . our life’s journey for some Jesus-believers involve real torture and sometimes death.  Some suffer inner travail and torture in other ways.  Either way, it is never easy and a “bed of roses” to be a believer in Jesus.  Simply because we’re humans living on Planet Earth means we’ll endure some sort of suffering and travail.  This life has often been called a “vale of tears” for Jesus-believers and pre-believers alike.

The Troubles of Job

A man named Job lived thousands of years ago somewhere in the Middle East.  After Job began to undergo many troubles—and much travail—in his life, he made this statement:  “Trouble doesn’t come from nowhere.  It’s human!  Mortals are born and bred for trouble, as certain as sparks fly upward.”   Even though the Book of Job in the Bible was given us by God for certain life’s  lessons, one cannot read about Job without experiencing a deep awareness that the troubles in our lives are simply part of the universal human condition, which happen to us simply by virtue of living our mortal lives on this planet.  If you’re human, you suffer in one way or another.  Yes, you!


“Oh, no!  Bill, you were doing so well up to this point.  Please, please don’t start writing about sin.  The concept of sin offends many people, Bill.”  I know, I know . . . most people don’t like to read about or hear the word, “sin.”  Many people deny it’s existence, many people don’t want to even think about sin, many people deny they are sinners.  I “get” that.  I understand.  Sin is not a pleasant subject.  The reality is, however, that every human ever born on this planet is a sinner.  Period!  Yep, that means, you, too; you’re not exempt.  And sin ultimately kills every human born on this planet.  Why do humans die?  Because of sin. 

Sin is a “terminal illness” we’re each infected with.  Each of us will die as a result of sin.  There are many definitions of sin that have been given through the centuries.  And, of course, the Bible defines sin in both the Hebrew and Greek languages in which it was written.  However, to me the most understandable,  rubber-hits-the-road,  workable, “down-and-dirty” definition of sin is:  I sin whenever I make deliberate choices and decisions to live for my self instead of for God.  I sin when I mistakenly feel I am in charge of my own life–when I’m deluded  into believing I am in control of my life. 

Does that definition “fit” you?  Have you ever made deliberate choices and decisions to live for your self instead of for God?  C’mon, be honest.  Sure you have.  That means you’re a sinner . . . and the end result of sin is death.  No one is exempt.  The good news is there’s a cure for fatal sin-sickness:  “The blood of Jesus [continually] cleanses us from all sin.”  How about a “cure” for death, the result of our sin?  “Since the appearance of Jesus, nothing could be plainer:  Jesus has abolished death and has given true LIFE to everyone.”  That’s it—plain and simple—Jesus continually cleanses us from all sin and has abolished death.  Period!

                   “I caused the Bible to be written, dear children, to guide you out of sin.  But if you do sin, Jesus serves as your ‘Defense Attorney’ in the “courtroom” of the Father.  Yes, Jesus, righteous Jesus.  When He made the ultimate sacrifice for your sins, He solved your sin [and death] problem for good—once and for all.”         –1 John 2:  1 and 2, paraphrased

Yes, there will trouble, pain, toil, travail, and sin in our lives throughout our mortal journeys . . . essentially caused by all of us choosing to live for our self instead of for God  And, you know something, we can’t even make the right choices most of the time without God’s help.  In fact, the Bible says:  “There isn’t the slightest doubt that the God who started a great work in you will keep at it and bring it to a flourishing finish on the very day Jesus returns!”  God actually does all the work in keeping us free from sin; all we must do is cooperate with Him in the process of cleaning up our lives and resisting sin’s influences.

God is also the one who will raise us from the sleep of death upon Jesus’ return to earth to establish his Kingdom.  Try raising yourself from the dead and see how well that will work for you!  God raised Jesus from the dead; Jesus raised a number of people from the dead; some people are being raised from the dead around the world even now as Jesus-believers summon them in the power of Holy Spirit to awaken from death.  Honestly! 

People really are being raised from the dead by the power of Holy Spirit.  One area of Mozambique has documented almost 100 people having been raised from the dead in recent years!  You will be raised from your sleep of death when Jesus returns to earth, no longer held down by the ravaging effects of sin.  Yes, our sin is a terminal illness that will eventually cause each of us to die; of the thousands of people who read The Traveler each month, some of you won’t be here to read it a year from now.

It’s possible I might not even be here to write it a year from now.  If not, I’ve already written the final issue and have left instructions about e-mailing you that final issue . . . whenever my death should occur.  Hey, I’m not trying to be morbid about this matter of sin and death; it’s just a reality for everyone ever born on planet earth.  There are many religions on planet earth.  But there’s only one Person (not a religion!)  who cleanses us from all sin and who will raise us from the sleep of death after we die.

          His name is Jesus of Nazareth.  His Name is above every other name—even the names, Sin and Death!  His voice is the only voice “loud” enough to cleanse from all sin and summon dead people from their graves…

                       “Death initially came by a man, and resurrection from death came by a man. Everybody dies “in” Adam; everybody comes alive “in” Jesus.  But we have to wait our turn: Jesus is first, then those with him when He returns, the grand consummation when, after crushing all opposition, he hands over his Kingdom to God the Father.  He won’t let up until the last enemy is down—and the very last enemy is death!  When everything and everyone is finally under God’s rule, the Son will step down, taking his place with everyone else, showing that God’s rule is absolutely comprehensive—a perfect ending!”          –From 1 Corinthians 15, paraphrased                                                                                                                                                                                                              To Think About This Month

                 “Don’t stop and claim a homestead when, in fact, you need to continue your journey until you finally arrive at your true Home!” 

Bill Boylan 
Life Enrichment Services, Inc
Revised and Updated December 2020

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