Ralph Waldo Emerson (among others) famously said, “Life is a journey, not a destination.” There’s a lot one can easily resonate with here. After all, it’s easy to become so consumed with a particular goal—with an ideal you want to get to—that you forget to live life right now.
But, honestly, this quote has always bothered me for one simple reason:
There’s no such thing as a journey without a destination.
Let’s apply this to writing, specifically:
Whenever someone sits down to write, their goal is typically to persuade the reader of something, or to elicit some sort of emotional response. In non-fiction, it’s usually spelled out something like this:
- In my first chapter, I will introduce my point.
- The following chapters will provide you with several supporting arguments, and maybe even address some counterpoints.
- My conclusion will confirm that we have indeed arrived at the point I set out to show you.
Pretty simple formula, right? But effective.
Fiction, though, is a different animal. With fiction, you don’t get a neat outline. You usually don’t know where you’re going until you get there. This is the drama of storytelling. The journey is crucial to making the point—but that point, that destination, will still make or break your book. It either makes you throw the book away, saying “Seriously? That’s where we ended up?” or it compels you to go back and re-read, to go on the journey again to see all the hints that were dropped along the way.
In good storytelling, the destination deepens the journey.
It’s the same in life, too.
For the Christian, we know the destination—we know where all of this is heading. We know that there’s a day coming when this world and all God’s people will be remade, perfect and spotless, forever free from the curse of sin. God has promised this and it will surely come about.
And yet, we so often live as if we don’t know this. We get consumed with things that are less important and distract us from the destination. This is why Paul told the Colossians in the face of distracting (and destructive) false teaching, “If then you have been raised with Christ…set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” (Col. 3:1-2) And again he tells the Philippians:
…Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Phil 3:12-14)
That, friends, is the goal. “The goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” To be with Christ. And this goal consumed Paul, to be sure—but it also informed all that he did. It’s this goal that allowed him to go to where Christ was not known, so that he might be the first to preach the good news. It was this goal that allowed him to suffer enormous hardship, multiple shipwrecks, numerous imprisonments, poverty and plenty and still say, “I am content.”
It’s the same goal that allowed Horatio Spafford to pen the words of his famous hymn, “When peace, like a river, attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll; whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say, It is well, it is well with my soul.”
In the Christian life, just like in good storytelling, the destination doesn’t distract from the journey—it deepens it.