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Post Script | April 17, 2023
Always on the Way
I haven’t written a Monday letter in several weeks. I have all kinds of reasons: the upheaval of travel, a stolen car, a house renovation nearing completion (and recently delayed). I shared some of this on Instagram last Monday when I mentioned life getting “lifey.”
“Lifey” is a wonderful word I’ve borrowed from my writing friend, Nicole. Together, we’ve tried remembering that the writing life—like the spiritual life—does not stand apart from real life. Writing, like praying, happens on days that cars get stolen, on days your contractor tells you the project is delayed, on days your head pounds because you and your husband have hit the same wall you’ve been hitting for the better part of 27 years. You must write—and pray—on the best days and the worst days because there is no more ideal day than today. Isn’t this the point of the biblical writers when they say today is the day of salvation? Aren’t they reminding us that obedience, discipleship, vocation, love can’t be procrastinated and put off?
But let’s be honest: sometimes writing doesn’t happen, as in the last three weeks around these parts. I’ve had ideas and unfinished drafts, but they never materialized into anything I could publish. And sometimes praying doesn’t happen, though it seems like this should be the first and most natural impulse when the floodwaters rise and you’re up to your chin. Sometimes you don’t write, don’t pray, because you are exhausted from the crises of the everyday, events that can’t even be called crises so much as hassles. You don’t want to complain, and you hardly even admit to yourself that these things are hard. But if you were to take even a tiny peek, if you were to get just a little bit honest, it would be obvious to you that you’re not writing, not praying because you’re struggling.
That was pretty much my internal state when I met for spiritual direction last week. Although this has been a regular monthly practice for me over the last 8 years, Beth and I hadn’t met the last couple of months. I spent most of the session admitting what had felt hard in recent months. Towards the end of our conversation, Beth stood from her chair and hunted for a book on the shelf next to her desk. Initially she couldn’t lay hold of it, so she sat back down—then looked again over her left shoulder. She stood up abruptly. “I’ve got it.”
From this book, Urgings of the Heart, she read a small section from the chapter on wholeness. Wholeness, the authors explained, is often wrongly considered as arrival. In this distorted view, you’re whole because once and for all, you’ve put the pieces together, left the disrepair behind. But this isn’t the Christian view of wholeness, they argued. To be whole—in the human life, in the Christian life, in the now and not-yet life—isn’t to have reached some magical finish line. Instead, to be whole is to be “always on the way.” Wholeness means following Jesus, the one who is the Way. Wholeness suggests, then, the language of travel, of pilgrimage, of “pressing on toward the goal.” Wholeness is promise yet unfulfilled.
What a mercy that phrase—“always on the way”—has been for me over the last week. I can be on the way, I can pray for God’s help to be more wholeheartedly on the way—but I don’t have to be there quite yet. I can learn and grow; I can fall and fail.
I was still meditating on the phrase when Nicole and I met for our regular writing group a couple of days after my conversation with Beth. When I shared it with her, she said, “Imagine what it would be like to create a whole genre of Christian literature that’s about being always on the way.” Not writing that traffics in false certainties, not writing that pretends something’s completed rather than in process. This isn’t writing that celebrates “mess” for mess’s sake—but writing that admits what it feels like to be human and beset by life’s unruliness.
It's the writing of paradox, involving the both/and of the Easter story. Christ is risen—and Christ will come again. I am risen with him—and I must work out my salvation with fear and trembling.
And maybe this, too: I get stuck—and yet, in Christ, I am also always on the way.