Is the Christian life a cruise or a quest?
Here is an excerpt from a book I’m currently writing on the spiritual disciplines in the Christian life. I’m exploring how we think of the Christian life–is it a pleasant stroll or an arduous journey? A cruise or a quest? I’d love your thoughts! Please share in the comments below.
Cruise Ship Christianity
I’ve never been on a cruise ship, but many friends swear by them. The beauty of a cruise ship—so I’m told—is that the journey and the destination become one. Not in some metaphysical motivational jingo. Rather, the ship will take you to several ports of call—you’ll see icebergs, whales, or tropical islands, depending on where you’re cruising. Other modes of transport—the bus or an airplane, for example—make a pretty stark difference between the destination and the journey, especially if you’re in coach.
In a prior ministry position I was required to travel regularly for work. There is no romance in contemporary airline travel. Gone are the days when people travelled in suits and dresses. Today, it’s sweatpants and hockey shirts. Once upon a time a normal person could feel his extremities while sitting in an airline seat. Today airline seats have managed to become so uncomfortable that they could plausibly be designated instruments of torture in the right context. At times, it’s difficult to comprehend that passengers pay hundreds of dollars to wedge themselves into an awkwardly angled seat—perhaps rack is more accurate—clearly designed as slightly constricting to the average 4’ 11” child. The only people who are actually comfortable in coach are children. I guarantee you that just about everyone on a commercial jet is counting the minutes until their circulation returns to normal and they extricate themselves.
Life is very different on a cruise ship. You could fly to just about anywhere a cruise ship goes. Alaska, Jamaica, the Mediterranean—all accessible by plane. People who take cruises do so because they want the journey they take to their destination to be a pleasant one. They want the journey to meet or exceed the joys of the destination.
Step aboard a cruise ship and you will immediately notice that it is designed to provide you with an entertainment experience. There are restaurants, swimming pools, bars, theatres, shops, you name it.
Cabins range from small to palatial. Each day your cabin is turned by the crew—who, I’m told, are quite adept at folding towels into animals—and a mint placed on your pillow for that delightful instance at which your sun-burned head alights on the down cushion and moments before your eyes close in peaceful slumber.
A cruise is a Las Vegas show, a Broadway extravaganza, a Madison Avenue shopping spree, a cordon bleu feast, that just happens to take place aboard a very large ship that is going somewhere. I’m pretty sure that some of the people on cruises ships neither know nor care where they are going—they’re there for the cruise itself, not the ports of call.
A quest is very different from a cruise. A quest is “a long and arduous search for something.” While some might consider seven days of over-indulgence “arduous,” what we’re talking about really is quite different.
A quest, by nature, is difficult. It is arduous. It requires sacrifice. Its outcome is not guaranteed. There is a price to be paid.
The journey will change the traveller in ways beyond simply providing a tan or, worse, a hangover.
At the end of the quest there is something so valuable that all of the sacrifices, the scars, the wrong turns—all are worth it. Their cost pales in comparison with the great value of the thing quested for.