You Can't Get There From Here
Years ago, I took my twelve-year-old daughter, Eva, on a road trip speaking tour. We were in a western New York Tim Hortons eating donuts and discussing the roadkill deer count to that point—an odd game we’d stumbled across early in the trip when we overheard the man at the next table say to his buddy, “You want to know what it’s like to be married? Chain yourself to a bear and kick it.”
I whispered to Eva, “What kinda moron kicks a bear?”
My little girl whispered back, “Especially one you’re chained to.”
As we hit the road, we dove into a conversation about the tough spot that fella and his wife were in, the brilliance of Eva’s quick wit, and the oddness of that phrase, “Chained to a bear.” This, of course, led to a competitive discussion as we one-upped each other with odd sayings.
Every culture has them—colloquialisms, vestiges of days past. Some origins are easy to discern, like, “Knock it out of the park,” which Eva knew. Others like, “Break a leg,” less so.
Then, there’s the curious phrases that are just good twelve-year-old fun.
“What’s a ‘humdinger,’ Eva?”
“What about, “clean as a whistle, dad?” That question led to a brief conversation about how whistles are just spit-catchers and an agreed-upon conclusion: There’s nothing clean about them.
“Rose-colored glasses?” I asked.
“Raining cats and dogs?” she responded.
“Give it to me straight like a pear cider made of 100% pears?” I Googled it for Eva, but you’ll have to do your own research.
“And why would you ‘beat a dead horse,’ Eva, it’s dead?” I noted, and continued, “Also, please stop beating horses, dead or alive.”
“Agreed,” Eva nodded, then lobbied, “What about, ‘out like a light?’”
I looked at her, confused.
That’s, been, turned, off?”
“Good point,” I grinned thoughtfully.
“What about ‘the rules were made to be broken?’” I asked.
“Yeah, pretty sure that’s not why they were made,” Eva responded.
I continued, “And how does ‘imagining everyone in their underwear’ calm the nerves of a first-time public speaker? That’s counterintuitive, Eva, true story.”
There were plenty more, but the conversation came to its zenith when I remembered a saying I’d been harassing for nearly two decades: “You can’t get there from here.”
Back before GPS, in the days when, as a lost traveler, I had to stop and ask directions from some old-timer—always an old-timer; upon hearing my desired destination, he would shake his head as though I was willfully lost and say, “Son, you can’t get there from here.”
“Sure, you can, fella,” I’d think. “If I’m here and I need to get there, then there’s no other way to get there than from here. So, unless we’re having an existential conversation in the parking lot of a Piggly Wiggly, I’m certain I can get there from here if you’d be so kind as to give me directions.”
For years, I only employed the phrase to cleverly expound on its contradiction. Then, one late night several years ago, I navigated for my brother, Joel, as we traveled from Charlotte to Lexington for a conference. By navigated, I mean, I listened to Siri communicate directions and then repeated after her.
Siri, “Turn left,”
“Turn left,” I said, looking up from my phone and pointing.
“Joel! Left! There!”
“I can’t turn left, bro. Look!” Joel responded as we passed our hotel, and I immediately recognized the problem. A freshly cemented three-foot-high concrete wall had been installed in the median between the left turn and our destination. We couldn’t turn left.
As we drove past and Siri jabbered, “Recalculating,” I heard myself saying that rascal phrase, “You can’t get there from here.”
Then, with epiphanous enthusiasm, “Oh? Oh! It’s about the road you’re traveling!”
“Eva, it’s about the road you’re traveling, get it?”
“Yeah, dad,” she said as she pointed at another dead deer on the side of the highway, “Eleven!”
We looked at each other and, in unison, said, “And a half.”
What Am I Still Lacking?
In Matthew 19, a young fella asked an old timer for directions. We know him as The Rich Young ruler who asked Jesus, “Teacher, what good thing shall I do so that I may obtain eternal life?” (1)
That’s a good question.
Eternal life feels like an intangible thing most days, a transcendent experience just beyond our reach. For most of us, eternal life doesn’t even start until, well, later…
But as my friend, Paul Young, describes it, “eternal life is not on a timeline; it is the ever-present now.”
And the Greek word for eternal is aiónios. It “does not focus on the future…but rather on the quality of the age [to which it relates]. Thus, we live in eternal life right now and can experience this quality of God’s life as a present possession.” (2)
Two things: First, if you’re worried there’s gonna be a lot of Greek in this book, let not your heart be troubled; I didn’t even graduate from Bible College. Second, and more to the point, Jesus acknowledged the man’s desire to possess eternal life like I possess my favorite coffee mug. I drink from it every day.
“Why are you asking Me about what is good? There is only One who is good; but if you want to enter life, keep the commandments.” Jesus responded. (3)
“Which ones?” The young man asked sincerely.
So, Jesus gave the fella some well-worn roads he could travel down, some of the greatest hits: “You shall not commit murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not give false testimony; Honor your father and mother, and, you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (4)
The young man replied, “All these I have kept; what am I still lacking?”
“What am I still lacking?” (5)
That question cuts to the heart of the matter. It describes religion perfectly and is what I hope to address in this book.
And I imagine Jesus was thrilled by the question.
It’s a humdinger—a recognition that even though the young man kept all the commandments, something was missing, an acknowledgment that somehow, he still didn’t measure up. It was a confession of incompleteness, a realization that no matter how far down the road he traveled, no matter what he did, how much he prayed, or obeyed, no matter how much he strived to do more and be better, he couldn’t seem to reach his destination.
Eternal life seemed like a cosmic game of whack a mole, or an earnest Tweet; the more he engaged, the more ineffectual, frustrated, and powerless he felt.
And I get it. “What am I still lacking” is a question I’ve asked for much of my life, and I’m not alone. It’s the question so many of my brothers and sisters ask today. It seems to haunt us even after we prayed the prayer—that first one, and the thousandth.
“What am I still lacking,” we ask after tragedy strikes, after disappointment crushes, after rejection breaks us, after loss devastates.
“What am I still lacking,” we ask after we miss the mark. It’s the question that torments us in addiction, condemns us when we fail, and shames us after we’ve hurt those we love.
“What am I still lacking,” we ask Sunday morning before church, and Sunday afternoon, after, because sadly, “What am I still lacking?” is the ‘gospel’ message many sin-counting preachers still present from many Western pulpits.
“Prone to wander! Lord, I feel it,” the sincere pastor pontificates. And, good lord, we feel it. “When I am weak, He is strong,” the teacher espouses, and lord knows it’s true—even though it’s the exact opposite of Paul’s words which read, “When I am weak, I am strong…” (6)
Hmm, it seems somehow the Apostle’s experience with eternal life was truer than his experience with what he was lacking.
That’s worth noting.
“What am I still lacking?” is like a mile marker on the road so many of us travel. It measures the distance between us and eternal life. It daily frustrates us with a beautiful destination to which we never arrive. At least, not in the ever-present now.
“What am I still lacking?” paints all creation with Adam’s fall instead of Christ’s resurrection.
“What am I still lacking?” exposes the dualistic hierarchy of for or against thinking. It’s the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil. It positions us against one another, forces us to point fingers, pick sides, and throw rocks.
“What am I still lacking?” is the beginning and end of every transactional approach to God, the conclusion of all retributive thinking.
And “What am I still lacking?” was the problem the Rich Young Ruler couldn’t solve. His question was sincere, and his desired destination was true and good. The young man was endeavoring to arrive at eternal life. And boy, if he wasn’t asking the right person for directions.
“Jesus, if I’m here and I want to get there, then how do I get there from here?” He queried.
Jesus honored his question by redirecting traffic. “Son, you can’t get there from here,” Jesus responded. “If you want to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” (7)
This article is excerpted from my book, Leaving and Finding Jesus