Thursday, October 10, 2013

Chattanooga Vacation, and My Longing for More

Last weekend, we took our first official just-the-four-of-us family vacation. We had heard great things about the city of Chattanooga, just a couple hours’ drive away, but in eight years we had never made it over there (despite trying twice). Our first big adventure was Rock City, an enchanting place that we all loved exploring.


After that we took a trip up Lookout Mountain on the Incline Railway.

Later in the day we toured the city on a “truck boat”—an amphibious WWII-era vehicle owned by the Chattanooga Ducks.


The tour guide was fantastic, telling all kinds of fascinating history about the city, and we even got to watch the sunset from the Tennessee River.

On Sunday, we ventured underground to see Ruby Falls, which was an impressive and worthwhile tour.

Since Elijah and Jude are both somewhat obsessed with trains, we stayed at the Chattanooga Choo Choo Hotel...

...and ate pizza aboard a train car (The Silver Diner).
Then on Sunday afternoon, the boys experienced their first-ever ride on a REAL train. The Missionary Ridge local uses real steam engines to take passengers six miles down the track (including under a tunnel!). Everyone disembarks, and they demonstrate the use of a huge turntable to turn the engine around before heading back to the station.
We packed in a lot of fun, but given that we were in Chattanooga less than 48 hours, we weren’t able to fit in all the things on our list, much less all the other attractions the city had to offer. And as we drove home on Sunday afternoon, I was tempted to feel disappointed. “Man, I wish we could have gotten to the model railroad museum—the boys would have loved that.” Or “I sure wish we could have spent more time downtown.”

Rather than reflecting with amazement and gratitude for the wonders we'd seen and experienced, my heart wanted more. I had this desperate sense of, “Who knows when we’ll go back? We have to do as much as possible now!”

Don’t we often approach life with that same mindset? “I might have 70 or 80 years, and then it’s all over. This is it. I have to see and do as much as possible, maximize my pleasure while I can.” I pursue all the fleeting pleasures that seem so appealing to me right now, all the experiences I think will satisfy my heart and bring me joy. It’s never enough, so I chase more, demand more, devour more in hopes of recapturing that initial ping of happiness.

The reality is, yes, this lifetime is like a vapor. But when my years here are over, the only thing that’s truly over is my foolish pursuit of empty idols! It’s then that I will finally know real, full, lasting joy.

The inheritance I will one day receive in Heaven far surpasses anything I enjoy today. It is beyond my wildest dreams, and it will never fall short of my expectations and leave me feeling disappointed. It is “imperishable, undefiled and unfading”; no thieves can steal it, no weather or sickness can dampen it.

But I don’t live like I believe that. I am so often blind to the inheritance Jesus won on my behalf. Like the prodigal son, I want to flagrantly spend my riches now; I want to selfishly devour my Father’s gifts apart from Him.

My little boys are infected with the same craving for more that afflicts their mama. As we drove back from Chattanooga, Elijah whined, “But I don’t want to go home—I want to do more fun stuff!” Trying to refocus us both, I reminded him: “We already did a lot of fun things this weekend. Instead of whining for more, let’s choose to remember and be thankful for all that we got to do.” This is good advice, but it doesn’t answer the deeper question: Why do we keep looking for more?

Because we were created for more. God made our hearts to be filled and satisfied with Him. Anything less will leave us feeling empty, longing for something greater. In His generosity and kindness, He showers us with glimpses of joy here on earth. The trick is to enjoy those gifts for what they are—not ends in and of themselves, but pointers to our ultimate inheritance: God Himself.

When I find myself grasping for more, I must recognize that what I really need is not a longer vacation. At bottom, my heart is hungry for Jesus. I have to constantly reorient my heart to see the pleasures of this life as types and shadows of a greater inheritance to come, rather than living for the types and shadows and never being able to pin down the joy they seem to promise.

Steve pointed out that as we had marveled at the beauty and majesty of rock formations and the technology that God has enabled humans to produce, how much more amazing will the New Earth be? We'll revel in the creativity. We'll all get to be explorers, discovering new things God created just to delight us. We'll experience all of the awe without any of the fear or danger. And our discoveries will be worship-driven, not profit-driven. We won't have to charge for admission or police the premises so that no one will deface them!

I hope we’ll eventually make it back to Chattanooga. But in the meantime, I want to learn to put my hope not in vacations, not in making my way down a bucket-list of natural wonders and cultural attractions and highly rated restaurants, but in Jesus. I want to remember that real joy will only be found in knowing the One who left His home, the most wonderful place in the universe, and endured a hellish journey so that I could one day make my home with Him, exulting in Him and His creations for all eternity.

 [This post is part of the series "31 Days of Seeing Jesus"--click here for a list of all posts.

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