Enjoy the journey
When Paul and I take a road trip together, we have our own individual preferences as to what road to take (interstates vs. back roads), what we do while in the passenger seat (read vs. take a nap), how much to pack (minimalist vs. you never know what we’re going to need). But one thing we have in common is that we both greatly enjoy road trips. Most of our road trips are framed by a little planning but include a lot of unmapped space for adventures along the way. I imagine that if we ever sat down and journaled what we thought any given road trip would be like before we set out, our imaginings would be completely different from the adventures we’ve actually had. Some of those differences would be glorious and welcomed. Others would certainly be painful and undesirable. As Forrest Gump said, “Life’s like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.”
We cannot control our circumstances (sometimes we can control which set of circumstances we will face next). We cannot control others (sometimes we think we can). We cannot control the forces of nature. Sometimes we can control our tongues. Sometimes we can control our voluntary muscle movements. We can’t really consistently control anything in this life except how we respond to the things outside of our control. We can choose our attitude, how we care for ourselves, how we treat others, what comes out of our mouths.
Today in continuing our consideration of home schooling our children being analogous to running a series of marathons, I want to focus on the importance of enjoying the journey. It is a very long journey, after all. We can hardly defer enjoyment of the journey for years and expect it to be well with our souls. C. S. Lewis wrote extensively on the subject of joy. This is one of my favorite quotes of his, from The Weight of Glory – “We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” He also said, “I’m not sure God wants us to be happy. I think he wants us to love, and be loved. But we are like children, thinking our toys will make us happy and the whole world is our nursery. Something must drive us out of that nursery and into the lives of others, and that something is suffering.” The pursuit of happiness is not just a phrase in the U.S. Declaration of Independence; it’s inborn in the heart of every person to pursue happiness. But God calls us to pursue Him, seeking Him and His Kingdom first. He has offered us infinite joy! God knows and desires His highest and best for each one of us. To love and be loved will bring us not just fleeting happiness but eternal joy.
God does want us to be joyful. Ephesians 5:18 tells us to “be filled with the Holy Spirit,” characterized by the fruit of the Spirit, including joy (which in the original Greek means to rejoice and be glad). Happiness derives from situations, circumstances, feelings, someone or something other than ourselves. As a result, our happiness can rise and fall depending on the changeability of any of these. But to rejoice and be glad are choices we can make – we can experience joy in any situation, at any time, in any place, even in the midst of suffering, because joy has its source ultimately in the One who created us and knows us and loves us perfectly and completely. He is constant, changeless, consistent. Like Paul, we can learn to be content in any and every situation because we “can do everything through him who gives [us] strength.” (Philippians 4:13) It is God’s joy that empowers us – He has a limitless supply from which we can draw every day, every moment.
There are over two hundred references to joy in God’s word. Eugene Peterson’s interpretation of Solomon’s wisdom in Ecclesisastes 5:19-20 encourages us to “make the most of what God gives, both the bounty and the capacity to enjoy it, accepting what’s given and delighting in the work. It’s God’s gift! God deals out joy in the present, the now.” David the Psalmist wrote, “The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and I am helped. My heart leaps for joy and I will give thanks to him in song.” (Psalm 28:7) Joy also has a way of rubbing off on others. Mother Teresa said that joy is “a net of love by which you can catch souls.”
Wherever the journey takes us, we can enjoy the scenery as we go. What scenery do you tend to notice in your life? We may not like every aspect of our current journey, but we can enjoy the journey by noticing what philosophers call the Transcendentals – beauty, truth, or goodness – along the way. No matter what today’s circumstances look like, no matter how our child is talking or acting, no matter how disorganized our clutter or our calendar, no matter what the doctor said, no matter how impossible the situation, no matter how much we lack . . . God is bigger than all these. We do not serve a God who is sitting off at a distance, arms folded, disinterested. We serve a God who revealed Himself to us as “God with us”, “I Am Who I Am”, “the God who sees me”, “the friend who sticks closer than a brother.” God takes great delight in us, and His desire is that we live in the place of joy.
Our kind and gracious God leaves His fingerprints literally everywhere, if only we have eyes to see them. He is always doing something good, something holy, something beautiful in the life of each person, even if we can’t see it. We may have to take a step back in order to get a better perspective. We may need to allow our gaze to linger a little longer in order to notice the beautiful, true, or good. We may be required to clean the lenses through which we view the world if we find ourselves seeing only the bad and not that which we can enjoy. We may need to be encouraged by another’s noticings on our behalf when we are simply too battle-weary to notice alone. Enjoying the scenery is a choice, and a secure choice, because God’s tender compassions are new every morning; His stability and faithfulness are abundant (Lamentations 3:23).
We may feel guilty for experiencing joy when there’s something tragic, chronic, painful, immobilizing, or heavy going on around us or inside of us. I am convinced that God wired us such that we have a capacity to experience joy even in the middle of very real and great difficulties. We do not have to check out of reality to be able to do this. Consider Jesus, the most real, most empathetic, most joyful person who has ever lived. He knew what was in the hearts of people. He knew why He’d been sent to live among us. He gave His all, His very life for us. Yet He lived a life characterized by joy, because He kept His eyes on His Father and not on His circumstances or pain or the brokenness of the people around Him.
We see such a tiny fragment of the whole picture; God sees everything and everyone perfectly and completely. God has laid out before us the choice as to how we respond to what we see, hear, and experience. We can enjoy the scenery by choosing what to focus on. Yesterday while enjoying a Contemplative Photography afternoon, as I explored a beautiful part of the park, something caught my eye, so I held my phone at arms length above my head in an attempt to digitally capture the stunning beauty of the uppermost twigs on some trees with their yellow and orange and red leaves set against the azure sky. A man walking the trail asked, “What did you find?” Isn’t that what God asks each of us – what is it that we’ve found in our current circumstances? Paul answers this, “I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse.” (Philippians 4:8, The Message) God acknowledges that things can get complicated, but He exhorts us to choose life. Moses said to the people of God in Deuteronomy 30:19b-20a – “I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life.”
Enjoy the scenery. We may not pass this way again.