On the Homeward Road

For as long as I’ve known them, my grandparents have lived in Texas. Nearly every holiday through the years has found us trekking the 7-12 hours (depending on who lived where at the time) from our house to either Nana and Pa’s or Granny and Granddad’s doorstep. Sometimes both.

Those hours of traveling can be tough for a kid. Sure, we packed Odyssey tapes (yes, tapes), books to read, and enough snacks for a week, but there were always long and unbearable hours of traveling mixed in with the easy and fun times.

My brother and I asked how much longer. We asked for more snacks. But despite the long hours and the boredom and the restlessness, we never asked to turn around and go back or to stay at a hotel instead. We didn’t want to go to some exotic place or take a different exit and vacation somewhere new.

We wanted to get to Grandma’s house.

What You See Isn’t All You Get

The Bible is very clear that we will not always be in this world. “I’m going to prepare a place for you,” Jesus told His disciples (my paraphrase of John 14:1-3), “and I will come back for you.”

We weren’t redeemed to live on this sin-scarred planet forever. Through the unending grace of God, there are many very good things about life on Earth, but they are only a taste of our future life in heaven. For those who are saved and on their way to eternal joy in God’s presence, “here” is not the goal. This life is beautiful and meaningful—but it’s not the destination.

Everything we ever face in this life is measured in light of the goal of treasure in the next. This traveling through earthly days, whether easy and fun or hard and hurtful, is not forever. One day we will get there. 

When the Road is Dark and Full of Toil

Years ago, a friend taught me a song with a haunting melody I could never get out of my head:

“I’m just a poor, wayfaring stranger,

A-traveling through this world of woe.

But there’s no sickness, toil or danger,

In that bright land to which I go.”

While our vacations to see grandparents have been remarkably danger-free, over the years we have sometimes had sickness and we certainly knew toil. At least, my seven-year-old self was convinced it was toil.

As our trials grow beyond our childhood sorrows, the hurts may go deeper and last longer. But the principle is still the same: This is not forever. “Remembering eternity really does help me live with a sense of proportion,” Paul Tripp says. “On the other side, what once seemed big won’t look so big.”

Hard days aren’t forever. Whether we face sickness, grief, disappointment, or discontented  boredom with daily life, we are walking through it, not in it. One day we will come out on the other side, stronger for having faced it in our path.

As we walk through each challenge, we learn to lean harder on the God who guides us through them—and will one day welcome us home. “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,” said Paul, who knew suffering and toil better than most, “as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18).

When the Way Seems Easy

Hundreds of billionaires live in the U.S. alone. We may point our fingers at the crazy rich, but we forget that we’re still pointing back at ourselves: Even America’s poorest are financially better off than the richest citizens of many countries. We spent over $3 billion in one day on Black Friday 2016, and we now have more TVs than we have people.

As King Solomon tells us, this too will end. And he would know—his riches surpassed all the other kings’ wealth of his time, and during his reign silver was as commonplace in Israel as rocks (see 1 Kings 10:23-27). But what did he tell his sons? “Do not toil to acquire wealth; be discerning enough to desist. When your eyes light on it, it is gone, for suddenly it sprouts wings, flying like an eagle toward heaven” (Proverbs 23:4-5).

Fleeting worldly pleasures are…fleeting. We try to pin them down and they evaporate. We try to hold them in our hands and they melt right through our fingers.

In our travels to Texas we have sometimes stopped to spend time (and money) at a store or a restaurant. We didn’t stop often, but we enjoyed it when we did—only to get back in the car and realize how much later we would get to Grandma’s because of the time we spent playing instead of traveling. These side-trips distracted us from our goal and slowed our progress. How often our desires for “the good life” or “the American dream” can do the same.

Either Way, This Isn’t Forever

Those many-hour trips from our driveway to my grandparents’ held many fun memories for me—but also many times of extreme boredom and being ready to just. get. out. and. move. But in the end? It was worth it. All those hours being bored out of my mind. All those hours wishing I could watch a movie or go on a walk or even just fall asleep. All those hours always got us to Grandma’s house.

The twin pulls of suffering and prosperity distract us from the road we are called to travel. In the hard days, we must hold onto this: what He has promised us will be so great that it will be worth everything we faced in the journey. In the good times, we must forever remind ourselves that what He has for us is so much greater than anything we find along the way. In all our days, good and bad, we are still aiming for our destination.

And there is a Destination. He is waiting. He is with us in every step, and no trial or treasure from our time along the way will hold a candle to what He has for us. Our traveling memories will fade away once we’re finally home.

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