I’m currently reading a book called The Sacred Romance by Brent Curtis and John Eldredge. The authors beautifully pen some of the thoughts and feelings I’ve experienced in the last year and a half: rich and meaningful life in Austin, TX, lived alongside vibrant and fun friends. I’m eager and expectant for the upcoming year in Kenya, but saying goodbye to people I love was harder than I anticipated. (sorry for the long quote… worth it. more of my thoughts at the end)
So much of the journey forward involves a letting go of all that once brought us life. We turn away from familiar abiding places of the heart, the false selves we have lived out, the strengths we have used to make a place for ourselves and all our false loves, and we venture forth in out hearts to trace the steps of the One who said, “Follow me.” In a way, it means that we stop pretending: that life is better than it is, that we are happier than we are, that the false selves we present to the world are really us. We respond to the Haunting, the wooing, the longing for another life. Pilgrim (Pilgrim’s Progress) begins his adventure toward redemption with a twofold turning: a turning away from attachment and a turning toward desire. He wanted life and so he stuck his fingers in his ears and ran like a madman (“a fool,” to use Paul’s term) in search of it. The freedom of heart needed to journey comes in the form of detachment. As Gerald May writes in Addiction and Grace: “Detachment is the word used in spiritual tradition to describe freedom of desire. Not freedom from desire, but freedom of desire… An authentic spiritual understanding of detachment devalues neither desire nor objects of desire. Instead, it ‘aims at correcting one’s own anxious grasping in order to free oneself for committed relationship with God.’ According to Meister Eckhart, detachment ‘enkindles the heart, awakens the spirit, stimulates our longings, and shows us where God is.'”
With an awakened heart, we turn and face the road ahead, knowing that no one can take the trip for us, nor can anyone plan our way. When he sets out, Bunyan’s Pilgrim has no map, no itinerary, no step-by-step travelogue with each day’s adventure carefully planned out. All he has is his desire and a general idea that the way of life lies somewhere along the road ahead. As the poet Wallace Stevens wrote, “The way through the world is more difficult to find that the way beyond it.” So many of the programs of modern Christianity with three steps to this and seven steps to that and a principle for everything are in fact an effort not to journey at all. More often than not, they are pursued with a desire to hunker down and make life work, here, now. The Sacred Romance is not something to be managed, but to be lived. We cannot remove the element of mystery from the road before us nor can we eliminate the dangers. But we can learn from pilgrims who have gone before something of the road conditions, the weather, the hazards, and the places of rest and refreshment.
In more ways than one, I left Austin with a broken heart. I cried and packed, packed and cried. My dad likes to make fun of me for having “12 goodbye parties.” With a heavy and burdened heart, I went to my church’s prayer night during one of my last weeks in Austin and we read Psalm 34: The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed.
Following Jesus doesn’t mean feigning a sense of perpetual optimism about our lives. Instead, we ‘stop pretending that life is better than it is’ and fully embrace the pain and joy and heartbreak and disappointment and hope of every season, believing that God is good and that we can trust him with our hearts.
2018 is the year God taught me the meaning of detachment: not freedom of desire, but freedom from desire. Searching for significance in anything other than the wholeness of God leaves us anxiously grasping and longing for more. Fulfilling my desire for love in the affirmation of human relationship is shallow and empty. God awakened my heart through counseling, church and intimate time in His Presence; rooting my identity deeply in the truth that I am a child of God and inviting me to enjoy the richness of life that He has to offer.
And now, with an awakened and full heart, I can turn and face the road ahead to Kenya, knowing that no one can take this journey for me and no one can plan my way. I cannot remove the mystery or danger or heartbreak on the road before me, both in Kenya and on my path in the years to come. But I can turn to God, the Giver of Life from whom all blessings flow, with hopeful expectation, for those who look to him for help will be radiant with joy.