There’s a phrase I often see. It’s plastered on billboards and posters, spoken by many of my peers and social media “influencers”, and seen in many a travel ad promising adventure.
“Life is about the journey, not the destination.”
This seems to serve as a phrase of comfort to the wandering and wondering, the restless ones, searching for meaning in today’s post-modern age. It’s a reassurance that, even if people find themselves lost, if they don’t know where they come from or where they are going, it is okay because the enjoyment of the adventure is all that matters.
I dispute this phrase and take umbrage at those who proudly say the journey is the only thing that matters. If the journey is all that matters, the destination becomes meaningless. If we are all on our own separate journeys, trying to enjoy the journey we are on, life itself then, becomes nothing more than a tour or a theme park ride.
Tours and rides are designed to excite, thrill, or even to scare, but after the ride is over, riders are left back where they started. Travelers on a journey are focused on reaching their destination. They desire home.
A journey is nothing without its destination, because, what good is living my best life now if I am headed for a ruinous end?
The restlessness of our modern age reveals the fruitlessness of the phrase. If life is about the journey, not the destination, then why do we all still search for meaning and purpose? Why was dictionary.com’s word of the year for 2019 “existential” (on the nature of human existence, the why and for what were we created)?
This phrase, though an unhelpful tool to use as a guide for life, does express well the undeniable restlessness of the day. Though brought to a head during the past two centuries by existentialist philosophers, restlessness and wandering have marked humanity all our days.
In the main, there are two general senses of restlessness.
The first, as seen in modern man, is found in not knowing where one’s home is, or the thought of having no home to which to return. A dread of wandering in a sea of meaninglessness marks this sense. I know many – especially among my fellow millennials – who bounce from job to job, career to career, learning new vocations and trades in search of finding the job that has meaning – a career that matters. The search for purpose marks us all. But the only thing found in searching for ultimate meaning and purpose – the telos of existence – through work is a mound of debt and a sense of regret. Greener grass is always a mirage.
Like being lost at night in the woods with no compass or ability to read the stars, mankind aimlessly wanders. The fear of not being found tinges any enjoyment had in the journey.
“Life is about the journey, not the destination,” here seems to assure this lost traveler there’s nothing wrong with being lost. But it becomes a siren’s song, denying there’s a real destination. Those lured by the song ultimately pay with their lives.
But no one wants to be lost forever. Everyone wants to be found.
The second sense is the restlessness of traveling home from a long journey. Travelers know where home is and knows they are on the right track; they simply don’t know how long the journey will take.
They long to see friends and family again and to rest and unwind, feeling the satisfaction of being home. There, any story – the ups and downs, twists and turns in the road – adds to the enjoyment of being home. The destination informs, illumines, and translates the hardships of the traveled road.
This is the restlessness every Christian feels to a greater or lesser degree. This is what I feel.
I am a poor wayfaring stranger
While traveling through this world of woe
Yet there’s no sickness, toil or danger
In that bright world to which I go.
This 19th century folk hymn reminds me that faith does not shield me from restlessness. I desire Heaven; I desire God; I desire to be free of the sin, heartaches, and troubles; I desire rest; I desire to be home. But I don’t know when I’m going. No Christian knows. We could go home today or tomorrow, or there could be many miles to go before we sleep.
That’s the restlessness of the Christian, what drives us to cry, “Come quickly, Lord!” when we know that one day, all will be made right.
Restlessness of the heart cannot be filled or satiated by health, wealth, or the pursuit of happiness the world has to offer. This world is transient, so the search for ultimate meaning and fulfillment becomes a fruitless, exhausting endeavor when one searches for it only in the material realm.
Though existentialism has pronounced the restlessness of our age – even for the Christian – Saint Augustine of Hippo’s answer provides the key to finding rest in the midst of the journey.
“You have made us for yourself, O Lord,” the Bishop wrote. “And our heart is restless until it rests in you.”
Joseph Hamrick is a semi-professional writer and sometimes thinker. He lives in Commerce and serves as a deacon at Commerce Community Church (C3). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.