Our family is currently enjoying a visit with my mother-in-law, which, despite the stereotypical assumptions regarding such visits, is something I look forward to. This visit, while greatly anticipated by us all, does come at a cost—a long and desolate drive in the South over land so monotonous and dull that it makes Indiana look topographically diverse. We have made this journey many times, yet each time it seems to catch us all off guard. We forget how long it is (14 hours on a good day); we forget how boring it is (really boring); we forget how cranky we all get (really, really cranky). At about the four hour mark, when we have spotted every variety of truck known to man, managed to eat our allotted snacks for the day, and managed to spend more time in truck stop bathrooms than on the interstate, it all comes rushing back to us like a semi with no breaks on a steep grade. Just when we think we simply cannot stand to be on the road a minute longer, we arrive—to the smiles and greetings of my dear mother-in-law and her obese but lovable dog.
Today, somewhere in Georgibama, I began searching for any metaphorical significance to our trek. After all, if I can’t enjoy the trip, I might as well get some good blog material out of it. So here are a few random, though hopefully not entirely contrived, parallels that came to mind.
Most road trips start out as rather happy occasions. One thinks much more of the destination than the process of getting there. Sure, you have mentally acknowledged the distance from point A to point B, but on a map nothing looks that far. It is impossible to imagine mile after mile without doing a bit of condensing. Besides, a map can only represent the mileage. MapQuest is shamelessly optimistic when it comes to traffic jams, flat tires, bathroom breaks, and dead batteries. So it is in the life of faith. I have yet to hear the testimony which begins “Well, I decided to become a Christian because, golly, the whole pick-up-your-cross-daily bit just seemed like it would be more fun than a barrel of monkeys.” Of course, we think we know what we are getting into, but then we thought we knew everything about marriage and raising kids, too. Man, are we stupid. Despite the fact that the cost is always greater and more painful, we seem to suffer from severe short term memory loss like a slightly more comical version of Guy Pierce in Memento only with fewer tattoos and less homicidal. “Sure, I’ll serve on that church committee. What could be better than hanging out with a bunch of fellow believers, week after week, trying to tease out the meaning of ‘baptism’?” “Sure, I’ll commit to mentoring that college student. When I’m not hanging out with my church committee friends, I love nothing more than talking to someone who has her entire life figured out and doesn’t hear a single word I say.”
So is this road trip optimism a character flaw of the Christian or does it somehow serve a higher purpose? Perhaps in some instances, it is our pride telling us that we have grown and matured and we’re ready to conquer this stretch of highway. But maybe it is also a blessing in disguise. If we did remember all the prior bumps and detours, how many of us would set out to begin with? So much is accomplished by simply beginning. Growth follows obedience and, fortunately for us, we aren’t required to know the full cost of our obedience beforehand.
The other thing that struck me as we thankfully pulled into the familiar driveway, weary but happy, was that we always arrive at our final destination. Maybe not when we thought we would or smelling like we had hoped, but we get here. I have yet to hear of the family that started out for grandma’s house and never got there. So too with us. Things may not go according to our plan but there is a plan and we will get where we are supposed to go. The cross has already been carried on our behalf and when we consider the journey taken to see it and ourselves delivered, our road seems much easier and our burden light. Unlike our road trips which mess up our hair and trash our cars, the trials of faith we face are shaping us for our destination. All we have to do is get in the car, buckle up for the ride and follow the directions we have been given. It may not be easy but it’s simple. And frankly I wouldn’t want to be headed anywhere else, even Grandma’s house (but don’t tell her or the obese dog I said so).