As I type this, Brent and I are driving down an extremely rural road in south Alabama. There is a lot of road kill. And buzzards. And rotting, old buildings. We have roughly 750 miles to go till we are home, and to me, this is a daunting prospect. I am already tired, my back hurts, there is no cell service, I don’t know where the nearest Starbucks is, and even though we’ve only been on the road an hour, I have to pee. The struggle, as my 15-year-old brother said repeatedly this trip, is real.
Now, let’s get metaphorical (because Brent, who is writing this with me, is wondering where I am going with this). One of the only perks of such a drive is that there is plenty of room for silent reflection (cough–and musical soundtrack marathons–cough). And, it being January, it is easy to reflect on the last year.
Our first theme–where are we going?– emerged early in our travels as we drove to southern Alabama partially cause my dad likes to give directions based on landmarks and also because Brent and I are students wondering if it was wise/worthwhile/the biggest mistakes of our lives to go back to school. Again with car trips and silent existential contemplation.
When thinking about where I’ve been this year, I (Brent) have done a lot: finished one degree, started another, ran half marathons, written papers, began learning a new language, opened an exhibit, traveled to present at conferences, all with the hopes of finishing my degree and finding a job. But, yet I am confronted with a deep sense of futility. So much effort was expended for what exactly? A job? A stable income? I realize that my goals, though concrete in a sense, are very ephemeral in the grand sense of history.
Which, bring me (Becky) to the logical next question: Why are we going? I ask myself this every break. Why, when I have so few days off, do I spend the majority of my time traveling to see family whom I love, but also who drive me crazy? I could be sleeping! In my super comfy bed! I have a great mattress. Why do I ever get out of bed anyway?
The true, and gut-wrenching, answer to this question is simply, “I don’t know.” Deep within in me, my heart echoes the writer of Ecclesiastes: “Meaningless! Meaningless! All is meaningless.” The toil and the struggle of school, work, family, and holding your pee so you can get closer to Starbucks have meaning only in the constructs that we (as a married couple, society, culture, etc.) give them. In the grand kingdom-sense, our toils and struggles are vanity and striving after the wind.
Hold up, y’all. We made it to Starbucks.
And we are back, which is great, because this is where Jesus comes in, a fact that an empty bladder and a hot cup of coffee helps me remember. Even as I am honest about my despair, I feel and have a deep hope.
This hope does not have a rhyme or reason. The fact of the matter is that Christ has come, Christ has risen, and Christ will come again. He is present now in the world planting seeds, some that grow to fruition and some that fade away. As we have eyes to see and ears to hear and hearts to understand this sowing of the kingdom, we find hope in our broken, fallen world. As I (Brent) learn how to walk more in community with others who strive to know Jesus and work for his kingdom, I begin to see more and more the hope of the gospel in my every day striving, making the senseless more sensible.
And that is the mystery of the gospel, the great paradox of the Christian walk. After several hours of car-driven contemplation (we are now in Arkansas! Come on, OKC!), Brent and I definitely feel as if this year has made us profoundly sadder. We sing, “Come now, Lord Jesus, Come” with an almost crazed despair, deeply longing for rest. And yet, we laughed more this year. We feel profoundly more hopeful and learned more how to celebrate our and our community’s stories of rescue, no matter the size.
So even if we don’t know exactly where we are headed and why we are in fact going, we can revel in the hope and the agony of our Savior and his story, holding onto this profound paradox, anxious to be home, and stopping for Starbucks along the way.