After we got married, Ryan and I rented one half of a duplex in a tiny, map-dot-of-a-town, right off US 68, forty miles north of Cincinnati. We thought of going on a vacation early that fall, but then remembered we had recently graduated from college with a stupid amount of student-loan debt and he was getting ready to go back to school and we had no money for a vacation. Instead, we both used our paid vacation week to stay home and tackle painting white the hideous grease-brown cabinets in the rental kitchen.
And we seriously underestimated the investment of time and effort required for that task.
Thoroughly exhausted and with our patience wearing dangerously thin, we decided to take one day and do something away from the house and away from those damn cabinets. We got in my old Nissan and started driving south on US 68. (Because obviously, if you're sick of working together for 18 hours a day on a tedious project, the ideal break from that would be to spend an entire day together in the car.)
I don't remember anything we talked about. We probably spent a lot of time listening to music and not talking at all. I remember we pulled over at a few places along the way to take photos, as well as taking a lot of drive-by pictures out the window. I remember that by the time we got to Lexington, Kentucky the trip wasn't seeming like such an awesome idea. While we could drive away exhaustion and frustration for a little while with the open road ahead of us, we still had to drive all the way back home to our bills and our real life and those damn cabinets.
And it was a long drive back.
Sometimes I think about what it would have been like if we hadn't gone back. I'm not talking about actually running away, I just wonder what it would have been like if we hadn't felt like we had to do the standard jobs-kids-house thing and had done something totally different instead. There were times we talked about it. We talked about moving to the city, where I'd go to grad school. We talked about moving to North Carolina so he could pursue a different type of job opportunity. But we didn't. We always went back to real life -- near our families and where we grew up -- just like we did that day when we got to the other side of Lexington and turned around.
Our road-trip experience is only going to get me so far as a metaphor for my spiritual journey, but as I was reading the Daily Office this morning, something reminded of that trip and that same feeling of wanting to keep going because there were so few good reasons to go back.
In terms of my spiritual life, there are days I ask myself what was the big deal with how things were, back when I was still trying to fit that ideal of the good Christian girl my parents tried to raise me to be. Some days I wonder what the hell I'm doing with all this unraveling and shattering and searching and weaving. I am tired. I feel alienated from a lot of people I used to feel like I was close to. Would it really have been so bad to have stayed where I was?
I read the words of other people who have left behind a lot of the same things I have discarded and they seem so sure of their journey. They are so sure of it that they can blog about it almost every day while writing a book about it and debating their thoughts about it on social media. They have answers and direction and purpose. It's not that I want to be those people, it's just that their certainty makes me wonder how I am still so unsure. If I made the conscious decision to unravel it all and burn down what was left and leave all those paradigms in the dust, why do I still have that feeling in the pit of my stomach that I have no idea where I'm headed?
And that's the thing about going somewhere without any real plan. At some point, the sense of adventure loses its luster and you get tired and irritated at yourself for agreeing to such a thing and you can't decide if it is worse to keep going or to give up and turn around. Even if you're mostly sure it is worth it to press on, you can't be sure that what's ahead is actually better than what you left behind. Perhaps what you're getting away from was painful, but maybe the unknown isn't actually better.
I am not sure. I continue reading and questioning and praying and processing. I'm squinting, trying to determine if this direction is really where I should be going. I have this feeling that it's right there. I can't see it, I can only sense that ahead is a better understanding of this beautiful mystery of the gospel and that this journey is about grasping the hem of Incarnation and astonishment and redemption and love.
I recently read Beauty Will Save the World by Brian Zahnd. In it, he writes, "To rediscover Christianity in all of its astonishing mystery and beauty will utterly overwhelm us and make all of our notions about its devaluation feel completely redundant. It will leave our skepticism in shreds." That is exactly how I feel. Everything is slanting and my cynicism is falling away and it seems that rock around my heart is starting to crumble. I can feel myself being broken and wrecked and I feel raw and exposed and I'm quite honestly a little frightened, but I keep going. In a way, I'm not sure I could turn around, even though it seems that might be easier.
At this point I can't tell if it's me and my stubbornness or if the Holy Spirit may actually exist in the way I've always wondered was truly possible. I really hope it's all true. I really hope that if I keep going, someday, I'll manage to reach the point where my awareness of the mystery and beauty assures me I'm going in the right direction, even if I'm still not sure of where I'll end up.
I really don't want to go back.