Growing up, road trips were the worst. We spent a morning cleaning up and packing the car, only to have several false starts—and usually at least one trip back home to pick up something we forgot. Then you’d be squished up against your family in an area about the size of the dining room table for anywhere between 2 and 12 hours. You’re either being poked at by a sibling, or you are listening to the bickering between two other siblings as they poke each other.
I would try to cover up the painful experience by reading a book or doing homework—the latter always being a bad idea. Eventually, our family started to read books together on long trips. I discovered that I could influence the book choice, and I tried to force on them some of my favorites. Frankenstein went over well after the plot got rolling. But Screwtape Letters did not.
Now things are a lot different, and I appreciate the simple joys of a road trip. My wife’s family lives in Washington, so road trips will probably be a regular thing. Granted, I’m the one driving now. At least half the time, I can determine what music we listen to. And we do not yet have kids bickering and poking each other. Hopefully I’ll still like road trips then.
My wife and I did a road trip this weekend up to Rexburg to visit her brother and his wife. And what a beautiful trip it was! I love the scenery (I have the advantage of growing up in Utah, so everything is beautiful. Jenni grew up in Washington, so all of Utah and Idaho is a wasteland to her). You could visually see the nasty gunk in the valley fade away as you got up to Brigham City and Tremonton. And once the speed limit gets up to 80, it’s a party.
I wanted to focus on some of the paths my mind wandered as we drove. The journey itself is very much a spiritual one. You’re mind isn’t burdened with everyday tasks and to-do lists. Instead of focusing on your plans for the week, you can think about plans for your life. Or think about nothing at all!
As I looked out the window at the passing towns and hills and mountains, I thought about what I would do if I lived there. I saw hills that definitely needed climbing. I thought about how I could best summit some of the peaks, and tried picking out paths on the mountainside. I identified some good sleigh-riding paths. I observed how the mountains changed as we got into Idaho. Idaho has these neat black rock formations that I haven’t seen in Utah. I picked out groves of trees as we drove by. Perhaps I never will climb any of those hills or mountains. Many of the thoughts were fleeting, a mixture of memories and imagination. And the feeling was one of joy, but also one of longing. An appreciation for simple things, a desire to relive some memories and to make new ones. It’s a part of what I identify as C. S. Lewis’s Sehnsucht.
I also found myself seeking God in prayer. I have been reading the collected letters of C. S. Lewis, and one thing that impressed me deeply was that he was always praying for people. He would pray for all the people he wrote to, and he would ask for their prayers in turn. Recently, I realized how little I do that in my own prayers. I indeed thank him for things, but mostly in a selfish way—things in my immediate surroundings. When I ask for blessings, I put myself first. It’s something I want to be able to change. So with that I mind, I began to pray, thanking God for specific experiences. A conversation where someone said something that lifted me up or made my day. I thanked him for opportunities where someone helped me or I was able to help someone else. I thanked him for moments where someone inspired me. I also began to think about some of the needs that people had expressed and how I could help them.
And finally, I began to flip through memories in my mind. I was surprised at how they have begun to fade. I can still very vividly remember most of the events from my mission. Part of the reason, I think, is because I can link memories to areas I served in as well as my companions. I associate memories with places and people. But before my mission and after, I don’t have that. Memories become blurred, and I can’t remember the order they occurred in sometimes. I tried to organize them by semester or school year, but there wasn’t really a strong link between school semesters and many of the memories. I realized that specifics of conversations were gone, and that oftentimes, I could only recall the general feeling of a person, but not real memories with them.
I did have some success when I organized memories in my mind by place and person, like I already did with my mission, instead of chronological order. Most of the memories I recalled were good. It brought a new meaning to the scripture in Alma, that talks about a “perfect remembrance.” In context, it says the wicked will have a perfect remembrance of all their guilt. But I also think that the righteous will have a perfect remembrance of all their joy. And I think we are building that by what we choose to remember and how we choose to remember it. I think a journal is a spiritual tool to help us with that task of preserving a perfect remembrance.
Road trips are beautiful things. I recalled a quote that I heard in Institute that week from David O. MacKay: “To have the approval of your conscience when you are alone with your thoughts is like being in the company of true and loving friends.” Road trips help you find joy in the journey—in the literal sense.