I had four hours to fill in San Diego between my son’s volleyball games. I did the calculations and it would only take me about twenty minutes to get to my old college campus, Point Loma Nazarene University. I hadn’t been there in ten years, maybe more. It was time to visit my old home. This once familiar road I drove night and day, now felt more like a distant memory.
I loved college. I loved the people, the experiences, the discovery. I also struggled in college. I didn’t have words for it then, but I do now. I was lonely. I had never been so lonely in my life. I was looking for a place to belong.
As I turned the corner onto campus, I turned off my music. I rolled down the windows and there it was — the faint smell of home. The salty ocean breeze whisked its way through my senses and I couldn’t help but smile. Everywhere I looked, I saw my younger self. I remembered the times I stood in line for a concert, counted down a sunset, and snuck around the library in a game of capture the flag. I saw myself everywhere. To my surprise, the nostalgia I experienced brought me more joy than sorrow. I think I know why. Even though a lot of my days at Point Loma were lonely, without them, I would never be where I am today.
The loneliness shaped me. It led me to dip into the dark places in my soul that I had been trying so desperately to escape.
I filled my life with stuff as a way to avoid the thing I was most afraid of, my loneliness. I used entertainment, relationships, busyness, popularity, socializing, spirituality, and school to avoid seeing my own heart back then. Walking the main campus road, sitting in the chapel, and looking up at the same San Diego sky again made me remember how alone I felt — but now I know, I wasn’t alone at all. God was with me, but I just wasn’t with Him. I was looking for anything or anyone to fill the gap inside of me.
For most of life, we are trying to fill this gap. We are pressing forward. Finish school, get the job, get the guy, get the house, get the baby, get the security, get the peace, get the stuff. It is as though gravity doesn’t hold us down, but pushes us forward like an unstoppable force. We are always in the middle of getting something or going somewhere. We are between children, between relationships, between holidays, between life stages, between jobs. In the middle of things, we have a hard time slowing down. We think to get to the next thing we must hurry up.
One of the greatest disciplines we can do in our spiritual lives is reflect. Reflection slows us down, helps us see, and allows us to remember God.
Reflection might just be one of the most undervalued disciplines in the Christian life. We fail to make the connection that our past is the pathway for us to the future. By remembering God’s faithfulness, contemplating God’s goodness, and recalling the miracles God has done in our lives, we then have the ability to trust God with today and tomorrow.
The invitation for you, if you are in the middle of something, is to reflect. Look in the rearview mirror, walk a childhood street, sit under that tree you used to climb. Reflect. Remember. Recall. The way forward isn’t to get, get, get. The way forward is to venture down the back roads of your past and discover the fingerprints of God in your life. Be reminded of how God’s grace greeted you and gave you the courage to keep going.
I snapped pictures and sent them to some old college friends. I lay for a long moment in a patch of grass that once held a significant conversation. I laughed, imagining how my friends would gather around in the cafe. When I drove off campus, I kept my windows down and played an album that I always listened to on repeat in college. I remembered all the lyrics by heart. I drove twenty minutes back to my son’s game.
My family was my home now. Parking outside the volleyball gym felt like I was reentering reality. I’m not as lonely as I was in college, but I still do lack courage sometimes. I still do run away from my pain. I still am tempted to fill my sadness with stuff. When I do want to outrun my own soul, I remember that every road forward doesn’t lead to the next thing, but every road leads me back to the love of God. Before I pop out of my car, I tilt my head back and reflect on how home isn’t a place, but the person of Christ.