There are dates we want to commemorate — the first time we met someone we now dearly love, or the day we made a vow, or the moment we experienced something wonderful for the first time — and then there are dates we’d just as soon forget.
Good Friday is one of those dates I would like to forget, because three years ago on this day, someone I love more than I love myself was the victim of a horrifying crime. He survived, thank God, but the fear and anger that resulted from the crime and its aftermath left all of us who were close to it profoundly changed. That’s not a complaint or lament or hyperbolic statement — it’s just the truth.
A few weeks ago, some of my dearest friends and I were sitting around a fire, drinking tea and discussing the 1917 Russian Revolution as we do (not), and the subject of this crime came up. While the conversation was respectful and full of admiration for everyone involved, I had to get up and leave. I felt like I couldn’t breathe, and as I hurried away from my friends, I realized that I am just not ready, and may never be, for what happened three years ago to be a topic of casual conversation in a crowd — even when that crowd is comprised of people I cherish.
And you know what? That’s okay.
We are all on our own timeline, our own messy journey through life — our professional journey, our personal journey, our journey of faith, whatever comprises our life’s journey. And there’s really no point to feeling bad about not being where someone else expects you to be in life, because this is your gig. You will grieve and heal and grow and learn and cast off old dreams and acquire new goals on the timeline that is right for you, and you alone.
And perhaps more importantly, there is no point to beating yourself up about not being where you think you should be, because the truth is, you are exactly where you are meant to be at all times.
Now, I am not suggesting that you should take your foot off the pedal or your eye off the prize or disavow whatever metaphor you currently use for having purpose in life! This is not a license to wallow or be lazy or disengage from the things that have meaning for you.
What it is, however, is permission to relax. Permission to give yourself the time and space to deal with things in your own way. Permission to think, carefully and, if it suits you, prayerfully, about what it is you really want. Permission to let go of everyone else’s expectations for your life — all the pressures you put on yourself because of what you think your mother, father, spouse, friends, peers believe your time here on Earth should look like.
Your life belongs to you.
Do I sound like I know what I’m talking about? I don’t. I screw this up all the time. But I do know what doesn’t work.
And tonight I got some great advice from a friend of mine, who, after a long conversation about my plans for the coming year, told me to slow down. Let events unfold as they are meant to unfold.
I think this is the best advice I’ve gotten in a long time, because I’d let myself get so caught up in trying to plan for the future, that I’d lost sight of what I was accomplishing in the present. I’d gotten so busy that I’d forgotten to enjoy the journey.
Some years ago, my brother gave me a book called The Journey is the Destination, about a young photographer in Africa whose promising life was cut short by an act of violence. The title had been his motto: the journey is the destination.
I think we can see the truth of that motto in the life of Jesus. When Jesus was in Jerusalem during the last days of his life, he was exactly where he was supposed to be. All of the events that unfolded — the fellowship of the Last Supper, the betrayal by Judas, the denial by Peter, Pontius Pilate’s acquiescence to the crowd’s demand for Jesus to be crucified, the crown of thorns and the sorrow of Mary and the suffering and the final breath and the curtain in the temple that was rent in two at the moment of Jesus’ death…it was all exactly as it should be, a series of singular events in a journey that changed the trajectory of mankind. Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem — to the Cross, and to the Resurrection we will celebrate this Sunday — wasn’t smooth, or easy, or predictable. It wasn’t like anyone else’s journey, ever. But through it all, Jesus acted as if he trusted his God, and trusted that his life had meaning, and trusted that the meaning would be made manifest in good time.
As we journey through this weekend, through the Stations of the Cross and the vigil and the flowering of the Cross and the jubilation of the Resurrection, slow down. Give yourself the space to breathe. Act as if you trust your God, and believe that in good time, your path will also become clear. But know that it won’t always be easy, or smooth, or predictable, and be certain that it won’t look like anyone else’s.
Because for Jesus, and for us, the journey is the destination.