Monday, July 02, 2012

Paying Attention to the Journey

The other day, I mentioned that I'd recently driven from Iowa to New Mexico.  That's about 2000 miles, round trip, with two kids in the car.  They did extremely well, and my husband did all the driving while I looked at the scenery.  To be honest, since we were driving through Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas, there really wasn't much to look at.  We got silly at one point saying "Look!  More sky!  Look!  More clouds!  Look!  More fields!"  Now, this type of scenery might be just what some people like to look at, and that is great if it brings them some kind of pleasure and peace.  But it really isn't my favorite kind of scenery.  I like trees, mountains, and beaches (which I haven't seen in some time).  It definitely was not an exciting drive.

I also remember a time last winter when I was driving to and from a town about 40 minutes away from me a lot.  At one point while I was driving, I'd been so lost in thought that I couldn't quite figure out where I was even though I knew where I'd come from and where I was headed.  

In both of these instances, I was mainly focused on the destination.  The road to get there was simply that:  a means to an end.  The road was generally irrelevant because what I really wanted was to arrive.  

And isn't that something that we generally do in life?  We get so focused on our goals or where we want to be in 5 years or 10 years that we forget to enjoy the journey of getting there.  Or, in our faith, we get so focused on the end result (getting to heaven) that we don't live an abundant life now.  We look so forward to what we have deemed the "exciting" part that we do not appreciate what we perceive as the slow and boring parts of life.  

We are always in a hurry to get through things, but do we really know why? (to be fair, even if we were not rushing, time does go by awfully fast).  

I think that part of the reason we don't appreciate the slow and boring parts of life is because we often hear that "we are only on this earth temporarily" or "we are not of this world".  

I think that this is a mistake.  

To disregard this world and our life on it in such a manner is, I think, somewhat insulting to our Creator.  We read in Genesis that when God created everything, he deemed it "very good" (Genesis 1:31).  And in Revelation we see the creation of a new heaven and new earth, the new holy city of Jerusalem being brought to earth from heaven, and God dwelling among his people (Revelation 21:1-3).  

I suppose it can be a little disappointing to learn that this is what the Bible talks about, and not about flying off to a place called Heaven to be with God there.  But if we slow down and stop to think about it, it is actually more exciting.  To know that God cares about this world and what happens here gives us a confidence and calling to love and care for it as He does.  We can see that our lives right now, though temporary, have meaning and purpose.  

My Jewish friends taught me about a concept called tikkun olam, repairing the world.  Essentially, what this means is that we are in partnership with God to set things right again (this plays very well into the Reformed Theology I am currently learning about the idea of reforming the world).  

If we continue to rush through life, can we really appreciate all the little parts of life that have their own importance?

I joked earlier about the boring scenery on my cross-country drive, but at the same time, it stirred other thoughts in me as well.  The immense spread of land, often desolate, is so different from large cities, and even from the small town in which I live.  There was the one place (in Texas, I believe), where we drove by what could only have been thousands of cows.  I am assuming they will end up being our food.  There was the one car we passed that was packed full and was following a U-Haul.

All of these are things that we can easily forget and dismiss, but all of these are things that happen in life.  Our lives are entwined with others, whether we know it or not, and if we pay better attention to the quiet and boring parts of the journey, we connect with others in ways we may not imagine.


kristen @ verbs and vignettes said...

very sweet post. i find myself constantly thinking about what it means to be mindful, and enjoy each bit for what it is, but it feels like it's almost immediately back to rushing and planning and just-not-enjoying.

i actually learned about tikkun olam from nick and norah's infinite playlist. ::blush:: at least pop culture addiction was positive that day. haha. the other main character says something like maybe we're the pieces for repairing the world, and we stop breaking it by coming together. i love that.

Kelly J Youngblood said...

Thanks, Kristen, for visiting and commenting. I actually don't even know what Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist is... ha! But, I'm glad you've heard of tikkun olam, and I like that image about coming together to stop breaking it.

Dennis Barr said...

Thank you for this essay about the importance of being where you are at that moment. Even if we're only passing through, there is much to be seen if we only have the eyes to see.

Late last month my wife and I, along with a good friend of ours, drove out to Denver from the Kansas City area. If anyone has not made this trip before, there's a lot of Kansas and eastern Colorado to cross before reaching Denver. The temperatures on our trip to Denver were in the high nineties and lower triple digits; on the return trip they maxed out at 113 around Hays, Kansas. The wildfires in Colorado meant that the mountains to the west of Denver were wreathed in smoky haze, and the smell of burning was present in the air around our hotel.

We made the trip both ways in relative comfort, in an air conditioned car with cruise control and other amenities. It wasn't that long ago, as time runs, that our fellow Americans crossed this same country in horse- or ox-drawn wagons, making only a few miles a day instead of completing the trip in ten hours. As we cruised across Kansas and Colorado on I-70, I was able to look out at a landscape not so different from what those earlier travelers had seen. I was able to compare the speed of our own passage with that of those hardier souls of 150 years ago and more. And I made a point of trying to notice what they would have had so much time to see in their slow progress across that endless prairie. I hope I honored their memory in that small gesture.

The road we travel may be only a means to an end, but we are not the only travelers who have passed down its byways. Connecting with those others is important, even as we will be commemorated in some ways by those who come after us.

Kelly J Youngblood said...

How funny you should mention Hays, KS. A friend of mine said something on FB in late June about going through there when it was in the 100s and the a/c wasn't working in their car!

I've often wondered how people did it in the times that you mentioned. I can't imagine going that slowly and with no a/c! Guess we are pretty spoiled, huh?

I like how you connected with the others who went that way before you--it's easy to concentrate only on ourselves and what we are going through and forget that people have been there before us, and will be there after us.