Last week I watched a trailer for a new documentary series coming out soon. As I listened to the narrator explain how he hoped traveling around the world would help him finally find happiness, I tilted my head and squinted my eyes. Why was this so familiar? I wondered. I watch a lot of trailers and consume a lot of content about pop culture in general, but I was pretty sure I hadn’t heard of this show before.
Later, as I watched a different TV show about a couple going on a journey to find happiness, it hit me. The series being promoted in that trailer was new to me, but the concept was not. So many of our stories — both the ones we see in movies, television, and books and the ones we tell ourselves about our own lives — center around happiness only discovered by leaving home.
Don’t get me wrong. I love traveling and believe it can be educational, refreshing, and even transformative. I’ve heard from and connected with God many times during trips outside my town, my state, and my comfort zone. And sometimes I feel such an intense desire to get away, to be anywhere but here, that rather than drive straight home after work or errands or dropping my kids off at their schools, I take a detour and keep on driving for just a little bit longer.
But sometimes we can’t get away. We can’t escape the confusing or crushing or simply mundane. Sometimes our budgets or our responsibilities keep us at home. Meanwhile, the world seems to keep its most wonder-full experiences for anywhere but here. Sometimes we desperately need a break. We deeply crave a change of pace, and we ache for adventure or long for lounge chairs by the pool — but we don’t have vacation days or childcare or gas money. Sometimes we’re stuck at home because we can’t find a travel companion or the courage to go on our own. Sometimes we’re busy or we’re sick.
Sometimes we can’t get away.
So what then? Are we to assume that happiness is out of reach? Are we to accept our existence is somehow less than because we can’t travel the world like a rich actor or escape to a magical land like a movie character?
Although, when I get that urge to run away from home — for an hour, for a day, for the rest of my life — this doesn’t seem so obvious. When I spend my time and energy looking outside and elsewhere for what I need, I can miss what’s possible, what might already be happening right here and now.
Last month I was supposed to go on a retreat with my fellow (in)courage writers. After a challenging and exhausting season, I was so ready to soak up every minute of beautiful scenery, delicious food, and nobody needing a thing from me for a few days. And, of course, I was nearly giddy with excitement to see my beloved friends who live annoyingly far away from my house. I fully anticipated connecting with them and with God as my cup overflowed with joy and gratitude once again. But then I got sick.
And did I immediately take a deep breath, look for the blessings in my broken plans, and thank God for . . . anything? Did I remember in that moment (or that entire weekend) that joy can be found wherever God is, and God is everywhere? Did I seek out ways to connect with Him and let Him renew my hope and fill up my cup right there in my bedroom or my backyard?
No, friends, I did not.
At least, not immediately. Because I’d gotten caught up in the idea that happiness was a plane ride away, that distance was the only solution for a lack of clarity, and that peace was only possible with solitude and silence and a complete break from my responsibilities.
Thankfully, God knows I watch many TV shows and He kindly connected the dots for me with real and fictional characters forgetting that life happens wherever we are. And with that, He reminded me that He offers us joy and hope and peace and purpose wherever we are, no matter how boring or stressful or hard. The Lord gently pointed me back to the truth that happiness isn’t out there.
Instead, joy is found in Him, right here.
“I know the Lord is always with me. I will not be shaken, for he is right beside me.
No wonder my heart is glad, and I rejoice.”
Getting away is a gift and can be a way for God to bless us or speak to us in a new way. But it’s not the only way for us to experience joy, to learn or grow, to be okay. Sometimes we can’t get away, and when that happens, we can remember that God—and all the joy, hope, peace, and love He offers us freely—is right here.
If you’re feeling weary or worried and wishing for a break, an escape, a way to get away, remember that no matter where you are, God is right there with you. He’s with us in our regular, everyday lives, offering fresh mercies and another step on the path He’s made for us. On the beach or on the phone with the doctor’s office, in a luxurious hotel or in traffic, taking in the sights or taking the kids to school — wherever we are, so is God. And where God is, so is our joy.