Blackberry Bushes and Ice Cream Bars (March 6, 2019)
Dear VICC family,
Sometimes I hear people say, “It’s all about the journey, not the destination.” And sometimes they’re right. Obviously, as someone who believes in an eternal future, I don’t agree entirely. How we get where we are going does matter, but not as much as where we wind up! However, all nitpicking aside, there is some truth to the statement. Maybe a better, more “Christian” way of saying it would be, “There is a little bit of the destination in the journey.” CS Lewis once remarked, in his book on heaven and hell titled The Great Divorce, that those who find themselves in heaven will look back at all their earthly life, even the sins and the pains, as a life lived in heaven (because those sins will be forgiven sins and those pains will have been “swallowed up” by the joys of eternity). In a similar way, Lewis surmised that those who wind up in hell will look back on all their life as hell, because the cheap pleasures of sin and selfishness were what brought them to this final state, and so were always a part of it. So maybe it is all about the destination, but there is some of the destination in the journey.
As we get into spring, Nichole’s and my minds are turning to our house and property, and all the things we want to do. My current mental obsession is our backyard, which was all thorns and sticker bushes when we moved in. The brush has all been cut down, but some of it is growing back. A pitched battle has ensued between the grass I am trying to encourage and the blackberry vines I am trying to kill. It feels like a metaphor for sin and the spiritual life. Another personal project, as you know if you read my letter from a few weeks back, is weight loss. I am counting calories, going on hikes, and eating Skinny Cow ice cream bars instead of pints of Ben and Jerry’s. Both projects are highlighting for me my tendency to cut corners and do the lazy thing. Both are showing me my impatience with process. But both are also really fun. At this point, I think I would hate it if some landscaper came in and gave me the backyard of my dreams. The process has become part of the pleasure. (If I woke up tomorrow fit and trim I don’t think I would have the same frustration…).
Our Bible is full of metaphors for how God deals with us, how sin and salvation work, how the spiritual life goes. These metaphors include walking, following, illness and health, marriage and adultery, and so on. But two metaphors that come up again and again are gardening (or farm work) and exercise. More than once, Jesus compared the hearing of the gospel and the salvation process in terms of gardening and plant life. We are the branches, Jesus is the vine, and God the Father is the one who prunes us (John 15). The gospel is a seed and the people hearing the gospel are different kinds of soil, each producing different results (Matthew 13:1-23 and parallels). God’s kingdom is like a small seed that produces a large plant (Matthew 13:31-32 and parallels). The apostle Paul loved a good sports metaphor (his letters are full of them, but see especially 1 Corinthians 9:24-26), as did the author of Hebrews (in Hebrews 12:1), to speak of the endurance required in the spiritual life, and the will to win.
Both the metaphor of gardening (or yardwork, or farm work) and the metaphor of exercise (particularly the metaphor of the long-distance runner) speak to the fact that the spiritual life, life in Christ, is a life of process. The process matters. It takes both patience and hard work. It takes reliance on how things work apart from our control. We have to work withwhat we are given (the bodies we have, the soil in our yards, the souls and circumstances we are given) not against them. But all the work, all the prayer, all the patience, all the joyous experiences and bitter pains, all happen with a goal in mind. For our spiritual lives in Christ at least, it is a goal we are guaranteed to achieve if we just don’t give up.
Your partner on the journey,