I wrote in a poem once that “I am no atlas…I am without that page that charts the distance between Chicago and Santa Fe, between here and healing.” I use Santa Fe a lot in poems about journeys, mainly because its English translation is “holy faith,” and that always seems an appropriate destination. But more often the journey is all about that last part: getting from here to healing. Sometimes you find yourself sitting on the side of a never-ending road, saying along with David, “How long, O Lord?” How many friggin’ miles until the destination, or at least the next gas station and air conditioned diner? But then, I imagine if he answered the question we’d probably never set out. We’d quit before we even tried. And that would be a sad thing, because even though my legs are aching at present and I am tired of walking, the road so far really has brought me through some incredible scenery and across the paths of some amazing and dear fellow travelers.
Anyone who has sincerely been following Christ for a while has realized that so much of walking from here to healing involves giving things up, involves refusing a whole lot of roadside distractions that are counterfeit destinations. But the thing about counterfeits is that they arise out of a genuine felt need. I seek a false drink because I feel thirsty. I try to fill holes with any crap I can find to cram into the gaping thing because, well, there’s a hole. And so he asks us to give it up, and sometimes we are left with the feeling of, “Ok, but I still have this hole. What am I supposed to do with the hole?” I think we expect that somehow saying no to the counterfeit should immediately be followed by God permanently solving whatever ache led us to the roadside stand in the first place. But it usually doesn't happen that way.
I just had a rather painful parting with a counterfeit. A ragged process, really, and man, oh man, it hurts more than I expected. Facing an aching void can just make your heart feel like it’s ripping in half. I feel like coming to God today and saying, “The hole! What the hell am I supposed to do with the hole?!” And I think the answer is that I am just supposed to look at it, to begin to know the shape of it. I am supposed to let him show me, bit by painful bit, what is really supposed to go in that place. Then the counterfeits start to look like what they really are: counterfeits. I recently read something in Isaiah that made me think of it: “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put light for darkness and darkness for light, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.” Counterfeits look sweet but would turn bitter in time. God knows this, and so he calls us away from what will hurt us in the long run.
The hole sits gaping as I slowly learn to recognize what will and will not fill it up. This loneliness, this hurt- it looks bitter to me right now. But God knows that, too. And he knows of the place down the road where I will find out that what felt bitter was really just a yellow dash on the road to the sweetest thing of all: healing.