stories of our life together on the road home
Navigating Roads with My Cab-Driving Soul
“Break the wrist, walk away. It’s that simple.” It’s a hilarious and quotable line from Napoleon Dynamite when Rex is introducing Rex Kwon Do. It’s followed by a couple painful minutes of Rex firing off his principles for life, all while wearing stars and stripes wind pants and a matching bandana. He’s also wearing yellow-tinted shooting glasses. Though Rex could be accused of many things in this brief encounter, self-awareness would not be one of them. And though I laugh each time I watch this scene, I’m struck by how similarly I try to navigate life on my own terms. I can’t tell you how many times I have struggled in life where I wish I could just break the wrist and walk away. What’s more, there’s a strong part of me that envies Rex’s singular focus to make the world conform to Rex Kwon Do. That same part of me, if I’m completely honest, even envies his wind pants.
Recently, I have been growing more and more aware of the journeys of my mind in the quiet moments of the day. It’s what Christians have referred to throughout church history as self-examination. In it, I can sense that my soul is grappling to determine which roads to travel, which ones to let deteriorate, and which ones to pave anew. But many of these roads were modeled and placed for me as I came up in the world, a tall but skinny kid moving from state to state and school to school. My dad was a large and imposing figure over those years. He was born into the Silent Generation, just after the Great Depression. He was a big-city Jew, growing up in New York City playing stickball in the streets and rooting for the Brooklyn Dodgers. He knew how to do life in one way for most of his own.
When he met Jesus in his 40s, it changed him profoundly. But it didn’t unearth, or rather uproot, many of the hurts and problems in his soul. It took some major losses for that to happen, and only after much damage had already been done. My own life first intersected with his before the uprooting. But it continued after, though the losses scarred me as well. Living with him, I could always feel the New York City vibes, pulsing and pushing for a place. His soul, it would seem, was very alike the roads of that city, my dad reenacting his time as a cabbie. My brother and I quickly learned to drive cars of our own, close to the bumpers, jostling for openings, quick to hit the horn.
On that journey I came to know the Lord. I stepped into a faith in a God who was present and alive, a God who was sovereign and could act. But my cab-driving soul still found ways to push and rattle through life looking for a leaner way with less friction. Though the Lord says that he walks with me beside cool pastures, staff in hand, I often find I’m still somehow behind the wheel of an old six-cylinder small block. It jars with the scenery, engine revving, exhaust pouring out, wheel ruts behind me.
And now I find myself as a father and husband, caring for others and serving the Lord. I find myself entering new phases of life without any plans to move or uproot. I find myself by calm streams and open fields. I took a gravel road to get here, yet I still sense the revving. I feel the desire to crowd and shove. When my mind wanders it travels to lands of adrenaline and power. But these things will not nourish or bind up my broken soul.
I stand in a sprawling, layered concrete garage. I hear a static-laden voice come through the speakers as it echoes and reverberates down the long passages. “Have you not found the one that will save you from this turmoiled life of hunger and rage?” I look to see who it might be, but the shadows and caverns only gape and jaw their emptiness. I try to take hold of my own heart, grabbing at my chest and fighting for control, but there is nothing to gain. Solitude and loneliness laugh at me. Now a man appears, a messenger it would seem. He points behind me. “Look there. The limitless beast comes to bring victory.” I turn, hoping that this apparition will not flee. But what I see is not right at all. I see a lamb, covered in its own blood, standing on the throne of God. It is he that has come to find me in the rubble of this city. (adapted from Revelation 5)
How can this upside-down world of Jesus make sense of my soul? When do I abandon old roads and when do I forge new ones? It has not been an easy season. God continues to come to me and challenge my angry, driving heart. And I can’t shake the image, wanting a lion and getting a lamb, and a sacrificed one at that. Jesus refuses to give me an easy or simple way forward. I can’t break the wrist and walk away. I can’t put on stars and stripes wind pants and roundhouse kick my way through life. But I also know that the way forward must connect to what came before. There is no route to the pasture that avoids the city with its vigor and drive.
Sometimes it feels like the Christian life is impossible. It’s as though I’m supposed to be one person while acting like someone else entirely. I’m to be strong and weak, prophetic and humble, visionary and rooted. In general, I just feel exhausted. But that hardly sounds spiritual or Jesus-like. And so I try to cover the fired up revving with a sedate sedan-like appearance. I bring the chaos to a roll, throbbing and edgy. How is it that God plans to bring peace and wisdom and purpose to my disjointed soul?
It makes me wonder what it would be like to see Rex come to our church and meet God. I suppose he’d have to reckon Jesus with Rex Kwon Do and find a way forward. It would be slow and messy, full of backward steps and mistakes. It would be hard to watch when it wasn’t hilarious. Sadly, my own journey has been even harder to watch, and I cringe to think of how my messy soul has slapped its way through brothers and sisters in Christ. But not so sad has been the sticky family of God that has been with me over the years. They would not banish me or refuse my entrance. Instead, there were scores of men and women that saw the seed of Christ in me. They could imagine that as my flesh would die, I would be more fully revealed in love and goodness. It’s not the death of my past or personality that they waited on, but it has been the stripping away of my false saviors. It has been the work of God seeing me and loving me and sending his people to do the same. And as this slow process unfolds, I find that the cabbie of my soul does not leave. He is instead set free to live. He is allowed to be loved and forgiven not only by a God above but in living rooms and coffee shops.
So where am I now? I wish I could say that the cabbie is on foot, slowly walking beside his savior. They speak of the small joys of life and wrestle over the large and unanswered questions as well. They are open and honest with one another. The cabbie’s rough edges and deep scars have smoothed over much from the passage of years and deep healing. That would be lovely, right? That sounds so lovely that I wish it could even possibly be true. But the real scene is more akin to a traffic jam during rush hour. My soul heaves into anxious avenues and breaks off into angry alleys and down into potholed dead ends. This isn’t idyllic. This isn’t even wanted. But it is real, and real is all I’ve truly got.
Find me in the city, roving and searching,
Find me in the scattered darkness, eyes hungry for more,
Bring to me the shards of mirrors and puddles,
That I might find glimmers of my face,
That I might recognize the shadows of my own father.
Turn me to face the surging and seething engine of my heart,
Though I shout for all things new,
Keep me in this real world of careworn edges.
Reflect to me again the outline of my soul,
And let me see my true image,
Brother of a man of sorrows,
Son of a Father of love.
Daniel Ryan serves as the Director of Soul Care and Counseling and oversees International Missions at Sojourn East. He loves discussing stories of all kinds and being out on the river in a canoe.