This past summer, Tyson and I spent a few weeks in Europe. We had sandwiches on the front lawn of Buckingham Palace. We napped underneath the Eiffel Tower while vendors tried to sell us overpriced champagne. We ate cannolis as we watched fellow American’s pay the overpriced rate to ride three minutes on a gondola, while a hefty Italian man serenaded them. We walked the uneven cobblestone streets of the ancient city of Rome, while slurping down some of the finest gelato I’ve ever tasted.
These few weeks resembled for me the moments where my life just felt good. We had the privilege to be able to travel, we reached the place we longed to be at for so long, our destination was beautiful, and relaxing, and oh so delicious. We had made it.
It wasn’t until traveling home, that my attitude nearly flipped 180 degrees.
You see, while we were in Florence, we stayed at an AirBnB that, unbeknownst to us, had a cat. I am severelyallergic to cats. So maybe you can imagine that after two nights sleeping in a room that a cat resided in, I was so stuffed up and red-eyed I had looked like I had either been taking a regular dose of illegal substances or I was some sort of zombie with a cold.
On top of what I call the allergies of the century, on our way home both Tyson and I caught colds. So we are traveling, we have an overnight flight from Rome to Dublin, and we both are sick and I absolutely cannot breathe out of my nose. It was the worst flight of my life.
We land in Dublin around 2 am and have a 12 hour layover so we were book a room in a hotel for the night which is not attached to the airport so we must try to find transportation at 2 am, in Dublin, while we are both sick, I can’t breathe, and I haven’t slept in about a day (I know, this is getting dramatic). We get on a shuttle that we think is going to take us straight to our hotel, instead, the shuttle drives us about 15 minutes into town to the long term parking terminal. By this time, Tyson and I are crabby at each other, we can’t think straight, and all I want is a tissue and some benadryl. Finally, we get dropped off back at the airport and have to call our hotel to send us a shuttle. About 20 minutes later, a shuttle van comes, we get to our hotel (without any luggage of course) and I enter the worst night of sleep I think I have ever had. The next day, I try to wash my face and make my two day old outfit and hair look as fresh as possible (praise Jesus for travel sized deodorant). After the attempt to freshen ourselves up, and I am still miserable, we catch a shuttle back to the airport to get on an 8 hour flight back home.
During that whole 24 hour stretch of what felt like hell, a voice in my head kept saying, this isn’t what I signed up for. Although we had reached our destination and got to dwell there for a bit, our journey wasn’t over. Traveling home from Europe had me wondering, are we there yet?
While this was a pretty silly example of the scope and span of our entire lives, it has me thinking about this life many of us walk with Jesus. I’m thinking of that story in Matthew 19 when a man came up to Jesus and asked him, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus tells him there is one good thing, which is keeping the commandments, and he follows by laying them all out. But then, the man responds by saying, “But I’ve done all these things. What am I still missing?” And Jesus tells him to go and sell all of his possessions and give them to the poor, then he can follow Jesus. To this response, the man walked away disappointed because he had many things to give up.
This story struck me anew as I was thinking about our Europe adventure. We had a destination, we arrived, but we couldn’t stay there forever. We had to return to reality– which is often messy and we get frustrated with the journey sometimes. And we are left asking the question,
“Are we ever going to reach our destination? Have we ever truly made it?”
I experience the man who approaches Jesus asking him something like this, “Jesus, have I made it yet? Am I living my life to the extent of holiness/sanctification/righteousness that you call us to? Can I just take it easy now?”
To this, Jesus says something that leaves him feeling pretty uncomfy. He calls him into something deeper, and quite frankly, more challenging than this man even realizes. And the man is perplexed and responds “What? That’s not what I signed up for. What could I possibly be missing.” And Jesus tells him that he must give up something. He must let go of his possessions, whether that are his actual possessions that give him wealth, or his idea of what he thinks life following Jesus looks like.
Our lives often look much life the scope of my travels — beautiful and sweet at times, but then in the scope of a day can feel like we are in the midst of mass chaos. And it’s in those chaotic times where our faith is tested and we feel like our lives are under attack that we say to Jesus, “Umm. I don’t think I signed up for this.”
We bargain with him and we tell him all the things we think we’ve done right and all the ways we think we’ve made it. But he challenges us, and he tells us to let go of what we thought our lives would look like when we decided to follow him. He tells us that inheriting eternal life, is just as much about the journey as it is the destination, as cliche as that sounds.
I think it’s okay to always be asking, “Am I there yet?” But knowing that walking with Jesus is letting go of our ideas that at some point this side of heaven, we have made it. Walking with Jesus is difficult and challenging work and it feels messy and hard at times. Walking with Jesus is about embracing the ebb and flow of life in the Spirit and seeking to faithfully surrender our need to have arrived.