Finding Joy in the Journey
On a scale of one to five, I’d always pick one.
That is, if you’re talking about California freeways.
In the past week I made trips using both Highway 1 and Interstate 5, and there’s just no comparison. For anyone unfamiliar with these roads, let me break it down.
The 1 is this gorgeous, winding coastal road sandwiched between the Pacific Ocean and glorious, green mountains. Picture rich, rolling hills covered in wildflowers on one side and to the other, breathtaking cliffs cascading down into the crashing white waves. I'd been down in San Luis Obispo for one of my best friend’s weddings, and the friend who carpooled with me asked if we could take this route home because he wanted to see Big Sur. I’m all about taking the long way if it makes the journey more enjoyable, so I was in.
The 5, on the other hand, is a straight shoot through no-man’s-land surrounded by scorched farmland and the occasional patch of cattle, which make themselves known to you not solely through your sense of sight. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve made a lot of quick work trips to Fresno in the last six months (which was my destination on this drive) and I really enjoy the area. I just can’t say the same of the journey there.
Scenery, however, isn’t the only reason I’d always pick Highway 1 over Interstate 5. To me, its winding curves and gradual slopes are more interesting to drive than the monotonous, endless straightaway of the 5. Not only that, but I’ve found that I sometimes get anxious driving the 5. Something about the vast openness, and the ability to see for miles and miles ahead can get me a bit panicky at times. I still don’t fully understand why, but I have noticed something. Whenever I’m on the 5 and end up getting stuck behind a big rig, cutting off my ability to see too far ahead, any anxiety completely subsides. I think that’s why I’ve never had any issues on Highway 1. On a road like that you can’t see for miles and miles ahead, you can only see up until it’s next bend.
Thanks to the recommendation of a friend, I’ve recently been going through a podcast series done by EV Free Church of Fullerton, CA. In one of the sermons, the pastor talks about how our hearts are dispositioned to fixate on the one “No” in a “Garden of Yes’s.” Let me explain.
When God first created the world and placed in it Adam and Eve, the first man and woman, He declared all that was in it GOOD. They lived in God’s Shalom, in peace and perfect harmony, just as God intended them too. In this Garden of Eden, God gave them every tree with fruit and green plant to eat, He gave them the animals to name and rule over, and He gave them each other and creation to enjoy. Adam and Eve were given so many good things. Only one tree in the garden were they commanded not to eat from: the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.
Yet, when Satan enters the picture and tempts them to disobey God, this tree is the one thing he focuses on. He gets them to fixate on the one “No” in a “Garden of Yes’s,” and deposits a seed of distrust in their hearts, that maybe God was withholding something good from them. In succumbing to Satan’s temptation, the Fall of Man happened and with it, the default setting of the human heart was shifted. No longer would we naturally be at peace and enjoy the good gifts God has given us, but we would now be prone to fixate on that which He hasn’t given us. With this shift the enemy robbed us of one of God’s fundamental gifts—PEACE—and instead imprisoned us in a perpetual discontent.
Isn’t that our tendency? To continually focus on what we don’t have?
I have a distinct memory of being in kindergarten and thinking that the 3rd graders were just SO cool, and I couldn’t wait to be one of them. I remember being a freshmen in high school thinking to myself, I just need to get my driver’s license, and I’ll be set. I remember being overwhelmed with finals in college and longing to just be done, so that I wouldn’t ever have to worry about another one again.
Just a few months ago in a Bible study I'm a part of with some friends, I saw the same thing.
I was talking about wanting God to bring the right guy into my life, and my friend was talking about how she just wanted to get engaged to her longtime boyfriend, and my engaged friend was talking about how she just couldn’t wait to get through the stress of wedding planning and be married, and our married friend was talking about how she couldn’t wait to get pregnant. Finally, our married-with-three-kids-friend was talking about how she wished she’d taken more time to get to know who she was in her single years before jumping into marriage and kids.
We all pine after some moment in the future, only to arrive and find it empty.
I often get frustrated that I can’t see exactly how and when certain things in my life are going to happen. It seems that if God would just give me some glimpse of what’s ahead, that it would be easier to trust Him now.
But I’m learning that God doesn’t withhold from me the ability to see or predict my future as a punishment, but rather as an extension of His grace. If I could see for miles down the road, my tendency would be to plan and control, and this tendency only ever leads to anxiety because I’m not in control. When I get caught behind that big rig, it feels like a roadblock but it’s actually grace, forcing me to focus only on what’s directly in front of me, forcing me to live in the present.
Without this grace, our lives become a string of moments wished away for some more fulfilling moment in the future, a moment that ever evades us.
And when this happens, the enemy wins, because his goal all along was to sew in us a discontent, a belief that God is withholding something good from us, and we just need to find a way to get it. His goal was to distract us with all these far-off illusions so that we’d miss the real gift: the present.
I’m learning that sometimes God allows roadblocks in our lives to slow us down, and to protect us from the danger of missing the present, with all its hidden joys and wonders.
Being fully present, even when our natural reaction is to impatiently wriggle our way out of the present, is when we experience life most fully and manifest God’s life-giving presence to others.
Being fully present is what opens our eyes to all of the goodness that God has for us NOW.
And God loves us too much to let us miss the joy of the journey.
P.S. If you need anymore convincing to take the long way, check out some photos from my CA 1 roadtrip below!
McWay Falls, Big Sur (insert heart eyes here).
Bixby Bridge, est. 1932.
All photos on this post taken by my friend and road trip buddy, Michael Cunningham. Thanks for putting up with my obsession with this ridiculously gorgeous drive.