Which Direction Are We Headed?

wemily I love traveling, I always have. One thing I have learned is that the type of journey and its destination determine what you’ll pack in your bags. If I am going on a backpacking trip in the Alleghenies (PA) and I’ll be out for 10 days, I will have to pack much differently than I would (and did) pack for a 3-day backpacking trip in Death Valley (NV).

I remember my parents throwing me and four of my siblings into our Oldsmobile station-wagon and heading south. We were on the road headed from Ohio to Alabama to visit our cousins. My parents were, at the time, considering whether or not to move down to Montgomery. As a kid this was an incredible adventure, we packed little, and didn’t really know what we’d find when we got there. And while even as a third-grader there wasn’t a whole lot about Alabama I found attractive, the road trip was fun. Looking back on it now, I am convinced, more than ever, my parents were insane. But, I have to assume, the destination and the purpose of the journey was what helped them stay focused and kept them on track. We never did end up moving to Alabama, but the trip was well worth it, at least if the goal was discerning whether or not to move there. Within a short period of time we knew the answer.

_Our Lives as Road Trips

Thinking about what kind of journey we on, and where we are headed is a good metaphor for the whole of our lives. I remember the first time we flew home with Lily to Ohio from Pasadena, sitting down on the airplane, breathing a sigh of relief for the miracle of getting to the gate on time and having that shocking realization that “I’m ill-equipped for traveling with this little one.” I, for one, underestimated the challenge of our journey. Have you ever felt like that in life? Things pop-up along the way and you realize (probably after the fact that), “I didn’t really pack appropriately for this.”

How about for our children? Are we helping them understand the kind of journey they are on and the destination they’re headed towards (or even the ones they should want to head towards)? Our society has certain kinds of “destinations” it values over others, this is what we call, by at least one name, the “American Dream.” A good-paying job, a house on the hill (maybe by the lake?), a good education, hopefully enough money to be able to “do what you want” and to offer your kids “a better life than the one I had,” are all a part of this story. And while none of this is necessarily bad in itself, doesn’t it betray a certain kind of destination? A certain kind of journey? It is all to easy to ride along, without realizing where it is we are headed. When I look back through our tradition as Quakers, and Christians, it seems to me that this question is one every generation has to wrestle with.

However, there are other destinations and other journeys, we might call the “rival stories” that we tell. The stories of Noah and his family, Abraham and his, David and Goliath, the stories of the Hebrews’ liberation from the Egyptian Empire, the stories of Jesus, his parables, the people he cared for, all break with the powerful images and stories of today. And this shouldn’t be surprising to us, Living out the “way of Jesus” is a different kind of road trip altogether. The journey of the Christian life is a journey toward the cross, and death, and yes, into resurrection. Am I, in all my American-Dreaminess, ready for that? How do I help teach my kids to value this kind of life over the other rival stories they’ll be taught all through life?

_A Spirituality of the Road

In Luke 10 Jesus sends out his disciples on a “road trip,” a time where they get to not just announce peace and the kingdom of God at hand, but to be formed and shaped by the journey itself. You can see this by the very things Jesus tells them to (not) pack for their journey.

“See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’ And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid (Luke 10:1–10).

What do you notice about what they are to take and to leave behind? What kind of journey are they on? What do you think their destination is? What might we expect them to learn about others, themselves and God on a trip like this? Isn’t this a fascinating example for us today, as we think about what should shape and form our own lives and the choices we make? How would our lives be different if we set out for a destination that was molded by the values and practices of Jesus himself?

Then I found another connection to this whole “spirituality of the road” when I was reading John Woolman’s Journal the other day (Isn’t Woolman a wonderful example of a man who was thoroughly shaped by this kind of road-weathered spirituality?). Listen to what he writes to a couple Quaker meetings in North Carolina in 1757:

First, my dear friends, dwell in humility; and take heed that no views of outward gain get too deep hold of you, that so, your eyes being single to the Lord, you may be preserved in the way of safety. Where people let loose their minds after the love of outward things, and are more engaged in pursuing the profits and seeking the friendships of this world, than to be inwardly acquainted with the way of true peace, they walk in a vain shadow, while the true comfort of life is wanting. Their examples are often hurtful to others; and their treasures thus collected do many times prove dangerous snares to their children….

Woolman offers a warning to the paths we are tempted to take. In his day he saw some of the worst kinds of human brutality justified by others who were following along with the stories and values of their time. It’s surprising to see how many people Woolman talks to who always kind of thought slavery was bad, but never really cared enough to do something about it, such as free their own slaves! The journey for Christ-centered Friends begins with a humility that seeks the destination of the way of true peace, the way of Jesus rather than the ways that undermine his kingdom. And isn’t it amazing that he sees the other way as not only harmful for us, but even for our children?

_Our Christ-Centered Destination

I find Woolman’s words both compelling and challenging. How do we live into this today? How do we help encourage this in our children and in the life of our meeting?

The things we practice as individuals, the activities we engage in, the things we value (not what we say we value, but what we actually put our time and effort into), the things we practice with our kids, all from us toward certain destinations. What direction are we headed? How will we get there? And will we be happy with what we find when we arrive?

Let’s open ourselves to the probing of Christ’s truth in our lives, to the guidance of the Spirit, and to the freedom having “eyes single for the Lord.” Let’s together seek that life of humility and inward peace that speaks only of a journey and destination marked by the Cross of Christ.

Published by

Wess

...is the William R. Roger Director of Friends Center and Quaker Studies at Guilford College in Greensboro, NC., PhD in Intercultural Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary, served as a "released minister" at Camas Friends Church, and father of three. He enjoys sketchnoting, sharing conversation over coffee with a friend, listening to vinyl and writing creative nonfiction.

2 thoughts on “Which Direction Are We Headed?”

  1. C. Wess,

    Recently read David Bosch’s iconic text “Spirituality of the Road.” He talks at length about how those who see themselves on the road talk like they are on the road. Like they haven’t seen where they are going yet. He writes:

    “It is a mark of true spirituality to admit one’s spirituality isn’t complete.”

    I hear this echoed in your writing here. The road is a long one. The image, for me, that sticks around is that of Little Miss Sunshine. That we are all stuck in a giant yellow bus with a bunch of weird people and asked to go together.

    We always come back with good stories.

    Here’s to the stories that will come 😉

    Grace.

    1. Hey AJ – thanks for the comment. I think you’re right. There’s something about a humility in this journey that recognize’s first that we’re on the road, and secondly that we haven’t completed the journey yet.

      And thanks for the reminder of that lovely film.

      Blessings!
      Wess

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