life on the road

There is something incredibly appealing about life on the road.

I spent the last two weeks on a road trip. Climbed Mount Whitney with some friends. Spent a few hours lost in Las Vegas. Visited the Mormon Temple in Salt Lake City (it’s smaller than I thought it would be). Found out Utah is actually really beautiful. Went on a (almost) twenty mile hike in the Grand Tetons and still had energy to finish. Spent almost 16 hours one day driving from Wyoming to Northwest Washington. Got in a traffic Jam behind a Bison in Yellowstone. Saw Portland for the first time. Added five cities to my “I could really live there” list. Including Missoula, Montana and Bellingham, Washington. Who knew?

But it’s the other stuff that I find even more appealing. Not knowing where you’re going to stay that night. Exploring a new city. The gorgeous landscape. The concrete sense of accomplishment when you reach your destination at the end of the day. Books on tape. Long conversations. Looking at the atlas for at least 10% of your drive (that just may be a road trip requirement). Buying food at fast food restaurants that you would never even think of purchasing back home (I’ll admit it, there was a dollar-menu cheeseburger along the way… oh the shame). Asking questions about each new place. Setting the cruise control on eighty and settling in on the open road.

And then there are the things a road trip is not that makes it so appealing. The lack of responsibility. Leaving behind the daily chores, bills, laundry, and everything else on the to-do list. Pretending you have no reception and not answering phone calls. Pretending you never pick up wifi and not responding to emails. Being able to say to everything in life, “I’ll deal with that later because right now I’m in the middle of a national park looking at the most beautiful snow-covered mountain ever and that will just have to wait until I get back.” In short, leaving the responsibility of life, work, and relationships largely behind for the freedom and adventure of the open road. And just living in the now. Freedom.

But as appealing as life on the road can be, I know I need to come back home. The freedom of the road can be so very tempting, but we are not called to a life of wandering on our own, going wherever we please, free from responsibilities and relationships.

Recently, Johnathan Wilson-Hartgrove wrote in his book, “The Wisdom of Stability: Rooting Faith in a Mobile Culture“:

Stability’s wisdom insists that spiritual growth depends on human beings rooting ourselves in a place on earth with other creatures…. My well-being is tied up with the health of my neighbor- even my enemy- and the place on earth that we share. No, we cannot halt the tide of mobility through a stubborn insistence to stand our ground. We can, hover, trust that our God is a firm foundation, giving us grace to stand even when it seems we will all be swept away. We can entrust ourselves to one another in faith.

There is a community that we are called to, a way of faith and of life, that necessarily includes trusting ourselves to one another. There is a freedom that we give up to be responsible to and for those in our community, because through that stability, through that surrender of tying our lives to the lives of those around us, spiritual growth occurs. In us and in them. Or, as the Apostle Paul says in 1 Cor 9:19:

Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible.

Paul hits on the same note again in the following chapter, saying that the believer is free to eat meat sacrificed to idols, but not if it causes another believer to stumble:

Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God— even as I try to please everybody in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved.

The freedom of the open road beckons, trading responsibility for adventure and submission for individuality, but that is not the life that I am called to, nor is it the life that will ever fulfill. Responsibility, community, and stability are hard, often painful, practices that take work and determination, but in the end, they are the practices that bear fruit. Life, growth, fruit… all happen when we stop seeking freedom and adventure just for ourselves and commit to the good of others in community.

Just as any young tree, if frequently transplanted or often disturbed by being torn up after having recently been planted in a particular place, will never be able to take root, and will rapidly wither and bring no fruit to perfection, similarly an unhappy monk, if he often moves from place to place at his own whim, or remaining in one place is frequently agitated by hatred of it, never achieves stability with roots of love, grows weary in the face of every useful exercise and does not grow rich in the fruitfulness of good works.  – Anselm of Canterbury

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