I spent the past four months living in a former Carthusian monastery in Austria. I was studying abroad, traveling through the European countryside on the weekends, sipping cappuccinos, waltzing through centuries-old cathedrals, and climbing every mountaintop.
“You’re living the dream!” family and friends back home would say to me.
Upon reflection, perhaps there was some truth to their words. Life seemed to fall right out of a fairytale — or so it appeared from my words and photographs.
It was a good and true and beautiful semester — one I had long desired for. It was the awakening of a persistent wanderlust in my soul — one that will continue to seek wit and whimsy in this ancient, glorious world.
But I think we get lost in the fantasy of “pack up and go,” of running away from the boring, habitual nature of our lives. We have made an idol out of escaping, a god out of leaving. We have made escapism the chief goal and highest king. We have so detached ourselves from the fruit and blessings of our own days that abandonment of what we have been given, of whom we have been given, is the hope, the wish, the dream.
What the photographs of my semester can’t show you are the long days and the sleepless nights. The missed trains and the food poisoning. The sweat trickling down my back as I walked through cities in stifling heat. The losing of patience and the asking for forgiveness.
The photographs also can’t depict the breathless awe, the genuine joy, and the tangible presence of God around every bend.
The photos can’t portray the way I ran into my own humanity — in ways I did not anticipate or ask for. They can only give you a shadow of a glimpse of what I experienced, and who I am now because of it.
Who we are, I quickly discovered, does not disappear the moment we are placed in extraordinary circumstances. On the contrary, who we are is only further revealed.
When we say we will leave it all behind and be free, we take with us the one thing we can never leave behind — ourselves.
We cannot fully live out what we think it means to be free because we, in and of ourselves, are desperate for something more. We’re always lacking and continuously seeking — on a hunt threaded with our own human nature and laced with the hope of something more.
The thing we seek then is not being free of inhibitions; we seek the One who frees us from inhibition. The One who unravels and undoes all that we are. The One who sees the tiniest elements of our brokenness and in this intimacy delights in us — not in spite of, not anyway, but simply because this is who He is. This is what He does — love.
We can spend our lives grasping for more, attempting to bolt from the crossroads of ordinary and mundane, or we can rest in His grasp, relinquishing ourselves to the peace of the present.
We can pursue life to the fullest, or we can live in Him who gives us the fullest life. And perhaps a life of abundance looks less like losing ourselves through escape and more like finding Him right where we are.
The semester abroad was the sweetest gift and the greatest honor. But I’ll be the first to say that it was not the fulfillment of my heart’s greatest desires and deepest longings. There is only one answer to this expectant hope that resides in my heart — God.
What I wish for you, dear friend, is that you have your breath taken away when you step into St. Peter’s Basilica, to have your heart skip a beat when you see the Cliffs of Moher, and for your laughter to ring out golden as you dance in the streets of Assisi. But what I wish for you more than anything else is that you never lose sight of what will really fulfill you — of Who will really fulfill you.
The truth is we don’t need to pack up and go to be completely satisfied (as if we ever could) because God is here and He is pressing in to stay.