Lesson from an Empty Kansas Road

| By Stephen Mapes

“Hey man, pull over!” my friend Jordan called from the passenger seat. When hurtling down an unfamiliar road in a car you may or may not trust to carry you safely for the next 2,000 miles, this phrase is not high on the list of ones you want to hear. My mind raced as to what the cause for alarm could be: Was a tire going flat? Were there plumes of smoke rising from the hood? Had I drawn the attention of an under-quota police officer? My stomach turned as I eased my red car onto the shoulder.

Without a word, my friend hopped out of the car, camera in hand, and rushed to the middle of the sprawling two lane Kansas road, flanked by fields of corn that seemed to extend to infinity (and possibly beyond), that we were driving. “This will make an awesome picture,” he announced.

I was confused at first. We were still almost 2,000 miles away from San Diego, our final destination on this cross-country road trip, and stopping to stare at an empty road and endless rows of corn didn’t seem particularly pertinent. Still, I humored him, standing on top of the road’s yellow dividing line, arms crossed, taking in the surroundings as I waited for the click of the camera to tell me I could move again.

But as I stood there, enjoying the serene beauty of this landscape so foreign to a former Bostonian who grew up in the Appalachian Mountains, my mind pulled out the obvious metaphor. Until then, the trip had been focused on waypoints and destinations. We needed to be in Cortez, Colorado, by nine to check in to a hotel. We needed to be at the Great Sand Dunes by early afternoon if we wanted to hike them. We needed to be into San Diego by Wednesday night so I could meet the movers who were carrying the rest of my earthly belongings from my old home in Boston to my new one in California.

Sure, we passed a lot of beautiful sights along the way, but these sights were never the focal point. They were small details you might off-handedly acknowledge as you hurtled past them at 75 miles per hour. “Oh, that looks awesome,” I would remark occasionally, quickly nodding at some unique hillside or grove or outcropping. But did I ever really take the time to stop, to soak in the beauty of the thing, to appreciate what it meant to, as the Psalmist put it, “be still and know that I am God” (46:10)?

It may seem a bit obvious to explain the relation to the Sabbath, but I’ll do it nonetheless: in our everyday lives, we’re often so focused on the waypoints and destinations – the kids, the bills, the mortgage, even our religious debates – that we rarely take time to acknowledge the marvelous world God has made for us with anything more than a simple, “Oh, that looks awesome.” Certainly, we can’t turn our lives into nothing but pit stops along the way, just as my friend and I couldn’t stop and marvel at every last beautiful landscape we passed as we drove across the country. The destinations and waypoints are indeed important; a journey isn’t really a journey unless it’s headed somewhere.

But once in a while, especially on a day like today, the Lord’s day, perhaps we can drop our lives into a lower gear, pull off to the side of the road if only for a few moments, and truly meditate on this world we live in and what it really means. To recognize not just that we live in an awesome world, but that we can thank our Creator for it. I’m often surprised how fulfilling, how peaceful, such pauses can be. It needn’t always be the mountains of our lives that we thank God for, either. Sometimes, reflecting on the seemingly mundane fields of our lives, the things we often take for granted, can fill us with just as much awe of God.

So this Sunday, I encourage everyone to disengage their cruise control, slow down for just a moment, and find something to take in and thank God for. I promise you’ll still make it to your destination on time. And you might even end up there feeling a little better than you did before.


About the Author

Stephen Mapes

Stephen Mapes served as webmaster for BioLogos from 2009 to 2013. He received bachelor’s degrees in mathematics and English from Eastern Nazarene College in Quincy, Mass. At ENC, Stephen was a teaching assistant for a general education science class about evolutionary theory and its relation to Christian faith. He was part of the web development team for the former Science & Theology News (which ceased publication in 2006) and has written for Science & Religion Today, a website aimed at a general audience. Stephen is currently pursuing graduate studies in mathematics at the University of California, San Diego.