- Posted by Fr. Jeremiah Shryock, CFR
- On January 2, 2018
- 4 Comments
The Missing Piece
When I was 18 years old I left my family and friends. Unlike many of my peers at the time, I was not leaving for college, military or beginning a new job. I, along with two friends, chose a different path. Without a destination, a plan or a specific purpose, my friends and I loaded up my Jeep Cherokee and waved goodbye to everything that was familiar to us. We were about to spend the next three months driving across the United States.
The previous twelve years of school had taught me one thing: there had to be more to life than simply going to college, getting a job and starting a family. Was that all there was to life? I didn’t know, but I was desperate to find out. The last thing I needed, or so I thought, was somebody else’s interpretation of life. Therefore, college or a career, had to wait. I needed to discover the truth on my own.
Even though I had grown up Catholic and went to Catholic school I never once considered that God could be the missing piece to my life. Instead I tried to solve the questions of life with merely human resources. I dove head first into philosophy, poetry, and literature, believing that the answer was hiding somewhere in that vast sea of human wisdom.
As we crossed into Ohio my friends and I rolled down the windows and started screaming at the top of our lungs. We had just done something unfathomable: we left our home state of Pennsylvania. For the first time in my life I was somewhere different. The people and the landscapes were similar to what I had grown up with, but as we continued west everything began to change. Not only was the scenery changing, but it was changing me. Whether it was the Grand Canyon, the Rocky Mountains, or the Pacific Ocean, the splendor of each new place awoke in me a desire to know the creator of such beauty.
Despite the wonder that surrounded me, the more we traveled the more confused I became. The enormous mountains and canyons that captivated me became a mirror in which I saw myself more honestly. What I saw was not the enlightened philosopher or poet I believed I was, but a child, who foolishly was placing his trust in human wisdom.
When we arrived in New Mexico I had reached a breaking point. Externally I appeared happy and in control, but internally I was restless and lonely. Even my friends whom I was with began to annoy me. We had been traveling for two months now and my hopes that driving across the country would give me clarity about the meaning of life were beginning to fade. On one level I was a free man. I had no job, family or other major responsibilities requiring my time or money. Yet on another level I was a prisoner, because of my refusal to surrender to anything greater than myself.
As we pulled into a campsite about 50 miles north of Santa Fe we quickly set up our tents and ate dinner. My friends decided to go to bed early that night so I was left alone in the desert, with nothing but a blanket of stars to cover me and a fire to keep me warm. I looked back over my entire life. “Where was I going?” I said out loud. “What was I doing with my life?” I had no answer. All I knew was that something was missing.
Suddenly the word “God” came into my mind. I was startled. It had been so long since I had prayed or even thought about God. I didn’t know what or who I meant by God but as I continued to sit there that mysterious word began to echo inside of me. The longer I sat the more peaceful I found myself becoming. Slowly I felt the confusion inside my heart begin to dissipate. Then, out of that silence I heard a voice from within me, “Why are you running away from me?”
Immediately I understood.
I had placed my trust in my own mind, with the help of history’s greatest thinkers, believing that I could create reality, truth and happiness. What I had created was my own loneliness. By ignoring the One who is Reality, Truth and the source of all happiness, I had become a fool, who deserved to be pitied rather than imitated. Before I fell asleep that night I prayed, “God, if you are real, I want to know you.”
When I awoke the next morning the world appeared strangely fresh and alive. I listened to my friends speaking from inside their tents about the travel plans for that day and remember feeling overwhelmed with love for them. All of my previous annoyance at them disappeared and I was able to seem them in a new light.
The next month of traveling was a time of increasing joy. We continued to visit beautiful places and do amazing things, but I no longer felt the need to understand my life. I felt complete. Even though we were a thousand miles away from Pennsylvania, from that moment on I experienced, in every mile that I drove, the feeling that I was already home.
Fr. Jeremiah Shryock, CFR