Leaving the Linear Year

Posted by: Pastor Clint Reiff 7 years, 9 months ago

At the beginning of this New Year, I have resolved to quit the journey. That’s right, that crazy linear journey that we call life in America. Almost every day, I wish people well on their journeys, as they wish me well on mine. Sometimes we offer to go withone another at least part of the way. When this is not possible we offer each other provisions for the journey—a book, a song, a tract, a message from the hottest new speaker—without ever really thinking of where, exactly, we think we are going. Sometimes, the destination is heaven. Other times, it is arrival at the right job, the right relationship, the right sense of contentment and peace.

However differently we envision the ends of our journeys, what we share is the certainty that we are not there yet. How could we be, when we are still so uncomfortable in our skins, so unfulfilled, so clearly less than we were created to be? On the journey, hope takes the shape of knowing that while all of this may be true, there is still more road ahead. As long as God is God, what counts is being on the way, putting one foot ahead of the other with eyes fixed on the distant horizon.

If this were not such a powerful metaphor, I would have dropped it long before now. I have traveled many miles in my life, both by the odometer and by the gauge of my heart. Believing in the journey has helped me stay in some godforsaken places longer than I wanted to, and to forgive myself at least somewhat for behaving badly in them as well. Believing in the journey has allowed me to grieve leaving safe and comfortable places without sprinting back to them before I had gone a mile. It has given me the courage to want more for myself and believe that “more” waits at the end of the journey. At the same time, it causes me to fail to see that “more” is not at the end of the journey, but right where
I am.

I have discovered that believing in the journey interferes with giving myself fully to the life I have right now. As long as I am on a journey, then where I am is not that important, since it is all about getting to the next place. A good camper buries his trash, but he does not prune the trees around his campsite or spend too much time learning the neighbors’ names. Where he is matters less than where he is going. Who he is matters less than who he will be one day. When the linear journey is all there is, the difference between hope and denial can be hard to see.

Last year I walked a big labyrinth for the first time in my life. I had thought about labyrinths for years, but my expectations were so high that I kept finding reasons not to walk one. I did not want to hurry. I did not want to share the labyrinth with anyone who might distract me. I did not want to be disappointed. I looked forward to walking a labyrinth so much that looking forward to it kept me from doing it.

But then I found a church with a labyrinth set up in their gym. I could walk the labyrinth by myself with no one else around, perfect lighting, no noise or other distractions.

With all my excuses gone, I said a short prayer and entered the labyrinth. The first thing I realized was that I simply did not like following a set path. Where was the creativity in that? The second thing I noticed was how much I wanted to step over the lines when they did not take me directly to the center.

Who had time for all those changes in direction? The third thing I noticed was that reaching the center was no big deal. The view from there was essentially the same as the view from the start. My only reward was the greater awareness of my own predictability.

I thought about calling it a day, I turned around to find my way out of the labyrinth again. Since I had already been to the center, I was not focused on getting there anymore. Instead, I realized how much more I notice when I am not preoccupied with the journey.

-- Pastor Clint

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