It was the middle of the night, and we were tired. A couple of close friends and I were making the drive west, to a wedding in California. We were roughly fifteen hours into a 19-hour drive, and we needed a break. We had plans for the next day, so there was very little room for stopping, which meant that, from the time we left to the time we arrived, our foot was on the pedal, and our car moved steadily toward the sunset and deep into the night. On our way, we saw some magnificent things. We saw a Midwestern thunderstorm that threatened to turn into something more serious. We drove through a mountain snowstorm (IN JUNE—which blew this Missourian’s mind)! However, somewhere around Utah, we needed to take a breath.
If there’s anything I know, it’s that we Nazarenes are always in a hurry to get someplace we aren’t. We sing songs about the “sweet by and by” and how “we’ll fly away.” We spend our lives thinking about what it will be like “when we all get to heaven.” I want to be careful here and clarify that it’s not a bad thing to look forward to what is still to come. There’s great hope there. We know our loved ones are waiting for us, and these songs remind us that the suffering we presently endure is only a fleeting moment on the grand scale of eternity. Yes, heaven is a beautiful thing to anticipate. However, the problem arises when we begin to view the destination as more important than the road that is shaping us.
We are a holiness people, and as holiness people, we hold a very optimistic view of life here and now. We believe God is calling us, forming us, and shaping us right here and right now. God doesn’t wait to form us into more holy beings. God, through the power of the Spirit, calls us into a life that is more than we ever dreamed possible.
We are a holiness people, and as holiness people, we hold a very optimistic view of life here and now.
It’s important to remember, though, that this process is gradual and progressive. Yes, there is an instant when we’re aware of our need of a second movement of the Spirit. Yes, there’s a moment when we recognize a deeper call, to full surrender. And yes, there’s a great responsibility in this call. However, we Nazarenes struggle to remember that, though the call can be instantaneous, the work of grace is gradual. Another way to say it: California is calling, but we’re still in the flatlands of Kansas.
Somewhere between Kansas and Utah, I began to dream about everything that was to come. I dreamt of the Pacific Ocean, the smell of salt and fish. I dreamt of finally trying San Francisco clam chowder. I dreamt of seeing mountains and experiencing sunshine on my face. I dreamt of ocean waves and In-N-Out burgers. I had so many dreams, and those dreams were not wrong. After all, wonder and anticipation are a normal part of the human experience.
There’s something powerful about going to a new place, exploring that place, and learning its intricacies and quirks. This experience feels the most viscerally real when we move. In the moments leading up to the truck, we find ourselves packing and fretting about all the things that need to get done. We need to put books in boxes and kitchen stuff in containers. We need to have garage sales, rent moving trucks, and choose our driving routes. All the while, our mind has begun the process of letting go of our old home and dreaming of life in our new world. What will the schools be like? What will the parks look like? Will the food be more delicious? I’ll bet city life is more exciting.
Before we realize it, we find ourselves completely and entirely someplace else. Our mind has left the here-and-now and is living and dancing in the someday-but-not-yet. We allow ourselves to stop observing the nitty-gritty details of the less glamorous for the excitement of the infinite possibility of what is to come.
And how true this is in our spiritual lives too. We can become so interested in what will happen at the end of the road that we ignore the world around us—imperfect, broken, familiar, and dull. Who needs Kansas when you’ve got California? Before we realize it, the old phrase becomes painfully real: “we have become so heavenly minded we are of no earthly use.” We’re on the road to heaven, and we no longer see creation. However, for me, that all changed in Utah.
The journey toward holiness can only be fully known to us in silence and space.
It was night, and we steadily moved through Utah. It was late, and we were tired, so we pulled over on some forgotten road off Highway 15 to stretch our legs and rest our backs. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but it sure wasn’t what I found. As our eyes adjusted to the deep darkness and our ears to the profound silence, we became aware of how much life existed in places we never expected. We heard the wind, the sound of gravel under our shoes, calls from birds, and the shuffling of lizards moving through the brush. We looked up and saw the heavens, stars shining in colors and numbers unimaginable. And in that darkness and silence, I had a profound realization: this was the world and the universe as they were created to be.
We often believe holiness is found in California (and, having since moved to California, I’m not sure I really disagree!)—with all its mountains and oceans and clam chowder. But we must remember, as I discovered on some unknown road deep in Utah, that the journey toward holiness can only be fully known to us in silence and space. If we want our hearts pierced, if we want to hear the voice of God in whispers and feel the movement of the Spirit among us, we must be willing to stop our pursuits and be still enough to see the world as it was created to be.
Yes, heaven is ahead of us, and yes, it will be more incredible than we can imagine, but there’s still a lot of life left to live here on earth. On the road from here to there, there’s more beauty than we can realize and more chances to find God than we can count. We just need to be willing to follow God off the main road and onto some gravel-paved road to who-knows-where filled with people we never knew existed. For holiness is found here.