On Thursday night I headed to Portland after my Greek class to play in a special golf tournament with some customers and friends. The tournament was held at this amazing golf course on the coast of Oregon, some 4 hours south of Portland. I left Seattle at 9pm and drove until almost 2 in the morning, stopping to sleep in the back of my truck for a few hours and then woke up at dawn and kept on driving. Although not normally known as a stellar night driver (after falling asleep at the wheel in college and having a near fatal vehicle rollover accident) on this night I wasn’t fatigued at all. I was emboldened with a sense of FREEDOM as I drove south from Seattle. Normally with a family of 5, road trips are a endless series now of bathroom breaks, restaurant requests, turning the portable DVD player on so the sound of Cinderella blasts through the car, and even a few times recently, our baby throwing up onto her car seat in the middle of a road trip. Nothing ruins a good road trip more than the smell of vomit in your vehicle. This is what road trips look like for me now in my 30’s.
But when I was 22, in the 6 months following graduation at Whitworth College, my life was a road trip. I had studied American Travel Literature as my senior project as an English major. After graduation and a summer’s worth of fish guiding to save my money, I embarked on a 6 month tour of America in a 1984 Volkswagen bus I had optimistically labeled “Hope.” In the course of the next half year, I drove over 25,000 miles, through all the lower 48 states and the eastern Canadian Provinces. I slept in National Parks and watched the sun rise over the Atlantic Ocean and later dip into the Pacific Ocean. I did inner city work in Philadelphia and spent time under the stars in Taos, New Mexico. If there was one word I would use to describe the journey? FREEDOM. I was totally free to do whatever my will possessed. Every day I would look at a map over my morning breakfast of instant oatmeal and French pressed coffee, and say, “Where to next?”
When I was serving at a soup kitchen in inner city Philadelphia during the journey, I met an amazing Franciscan monk. His name was Father Francis, and he ran the soup kitchen and a barrage of other inner city ministries of the Franciscan order. He was one of those amazing people that you meet that has the unmistakable joy and transformation of character of a person totally devoted to God. His joy and love for the Lord was as transparent on him as the clothes he wore. As a Franciscan, he took three vows to serve Christ: to chastity, to poverty, and to obedience. One day over tea at his residence, I asked him point blank,” Francis, as a man with raging hormones in my 20’s, I simply can not imagine taking a vow to chastity. How have you done it? Isn’t it impossible?” He laughed and smiled knowingly at me, as I’m sure he received that question from every 20-year-old male that he came across. But then he taught me this amazing precept. “Scott, all of life is lived on a continuum between Freedom and Intimacy. You will find later in life that at times you are most free, you also hunger for deeper intimacy. And at times you’ll have deep intimacy, but you’ll find yourself longing for freedom.” The secret, he suggested, is to trust God in your current situation no matter where you are on the continuum.
As God has wired us for community and interdependence, we also have this deep hunger for solitude and self-reflection. Think of Adam in the Garden, he had everything at his disposal and all his needs met and yet he was lonely, and so God made Eve. Even Jesus himself, in all his travels and ministry among people and surrounded by the crowds whom He loved so much, He also longed for solitude and time away. (Luke 6:12-13)
Though we are wired to be connected, there are times when it fuels us to be alone. And depending on your introvert/extrovert status, you might be someone that naturally skews either towards the freedom side of the continuum and constantly seek out times of solitude, or you might skew towards intimacy and feel most alive in the presence of other people. But my hunch is that like Father Francis said, at times when you have lots of intimacy, you’ll hunger for a bit of freedom. And at times of life when you have unbridled freedom, you’ll just wish you had others to share it with. This is the dual nature of our character.
When I returned home Saturday afternoon I had the same joyous 7 hours in my truck alone. I had the window down the whole way (this would never fly with my wife), the music was loud, and I was left thinking about life for hours. I could feel myself refreshed by the 2 days of freedom. I returned home late and crawled in bed after talking with Heather for a while.
Sometime in the middle of the night, my son ended up in our bed and upon seeing me gave me a huge bear hug. Later, before even dawn had lit the morning sky, our baby awoke and ended up in bed with us too. She turned to me and gave me hugs and kisses. Suddenly, in a crowded bed and overwhelmed by the love and physical presence of my family, I had the joy of being home and being surrounded by the family I love so deeply. The freedom had faded and instead, intimacy had returned. And in that crowded bed, bodies smashed together, I was deeply thankful for the intimacy the Lord has blessed me with.
Where are you at right now on the continuum? Leaning towards freedom? Or intimacy? If you are craving more freedom, you might need to be more thankful for this time rich in intimacy. And vice versa, if you are hungering for more intimacy, perhaps you should be grateful for the amount of freedom you enjoy. The trick is to enjoy God in this very moment, instead of presupposing happiness if you were elsewhere on the freedom vs. intimacy continuum. When you can be grateful for today, in your current context, God can use you more fully to be His presence in your world. For me, after being recharged with a dose of freedom, its back to the joyous and sometimes challenging days of INTIMATE family life. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.