I grew up in the Pentecostal tradition. It is a rich and wonderful expression of Christianity with powerful experiences of the Divine. I remember being awed at the power of prayer exhibited by those around me in worship. Many say there is no “liturgy” to their gatherings; however, I know the worship in a Pentecostal church is very “liturgical.” It follows a specific pattern and flow with the absolute expectation that God will show up in powerful ways. It is from this tradition that I gained the understanding that the transition from this life to the next was not just the cessation of life but a “home going.” I can’t remember how many funerals I attended where the preacher spoke forcefully about how the departed was now in their heavenly home. How Christ had prepared a place for them, a mansion in glory, and how now they could bask in the presence of the Lord.
As I face the final part of my journey, I want to embrace this metaphor from my youth once again. I want to lean into John 14, where Christ encourages His disciples not to be troubled but to rest in the fact that He is preparing a place for them (us). With my diagnosis of neuroendocrine tumors over seven years ago, I became acutely aware of taking the journey to “the home”, or as most versions put it “the room,” that Christ has made ready. There are three things that seem certain for most of us as we journey homeward. The journey will be long. There will be suffering. The timing is beyond our control.
What’s the cliché? Every journey begins with the first step… We love journey narratives. From Lord of the Rings, to the Star Wars movies, to A Christmas Carol by Dickens, we love to travel along with an unlikely soul moving through difficult circumstances to come out on the other side completely transformed. The journey, however, is always long and treacherous. There are mountains, obstacles, villains, and “ghosts from Christmas past” to face. Doubt is an ever-present danger and the temptation to give up and give in is almost always the greatest struggle.
The journey also involves suffering. Twenty first century Christianity has somehow embraced the heretical notion that suffering isn’t part of the faith journey. If that is so then nearly every saint in the Scripture is somehow tainted by their pain. From Abraham to Jeremiah to Paul, the heroes of the faith all were embattled and scarred by their journey. Even Jesus, the best of humanity (and divinity) suffered dreadfully, and by His stripes is our eternal healing made manifest. What on earth has led us to believe that we should be exempt from suffering when the world is so broken? We have somehow bought into a Santa Claus theology that if we say the right combination of words, utter the right phrases, or quote the right Scriptures (usually vastly out of context lacking all theological or exegetical integrity) we can open a treasure trove of riches, real and spiritual, and escape all suffering. Transformative journeys always involve suffering; the journey home will be no different.
Lastly, and maybe the most frustrating for me, is that the timing of the end of the journey is beyond our control. Repeatedly the Scripture reminds us that we don’t know the “day or hour.” I am a planner. I like to make a plan, prepare the plan, and execute the plan. Just the other day a former staff member from Lake Junaluska reminded me of how I always told them that “excellence is 80% preparation, 10% perspiration, and 10% execution.” You don’t get the end product without working the process.
If being on the journey has taught me anything it is that I am never sure what happens next. When I was diagnosed 7 ½ years ago I thought I had maybe six months to live. Then I thought I’d maybe have a couple of years. About six months ago, the doctor said six to twelve months. I’ve passed that six-month mark. What’s next? Essentially what I know is that I don’t know. Ambiguity is the tent that I am camped out in.
One of the hardest things about being diagnosed with a terminal condition is not only what it does to you, but what it does to those around you. You see the concern, weariness, and pain upon their faces. You feel their concern with every hug. You want to release them from the pain however you know that is impossible. I don’t know when the journey will end. All I can do is take the next step, and the one after that and rely on those traveling with me to hold my hand and my heart as we travel together.
So, I lean into John 14, believing that at the right time, after the long journey, after the suffering, and when the time is right, I will trust Jesus when He promises, “You know the way to the place I’m going.” Then I’ll finish the long journey home.