Summary: Neither grief nor guilt are productive, take us anywhere. The Cross is God’s signpost that will put an end to our continuing struggles with both.
Just a few days ago we celebrated, if that’s the right word, the thirtieth anniversary of something we all love to hate. Imagine observing the anniversary of something that has cost us dearly in dollars and also in blood and tears. Something we cannot live without, but sometimes wonder if we can live with. Something which has become a symbol of Washington and its ways; something which stimulates growth and yet stifles it; something which ties together the diverse people of our area but also divides them. You love it but, unless I miss my guess, you also hate it. What am I speaking of? The Beltway! We observed the 30th anniversary of the opening of the Capital Beltway!
This peculiar road, the Beltway, is a symbol of many things. It represents the nearsightedness of Washington insiders, so that the rest of the country says, "Ah, the real people don’t believe that stuff. That’s an inside the Beltway viewpoint."
The Beltway represents the self-importance of Washington. Places to go and people to see. Go, go, go; fast and faster. Some of us remember when the legal speed limit was 70 instead of 55, and they ignored the 70 then just as much as they ignore the 55 now. But we who drive the Beltway aggressively seem to be saying, "We are on our way, somewhere, somewhere important, and fast." As the Bible says, or at least ought to say, "Blessed are they which go around in circles, for they shall be known as big wheels."
The Beltway even represents this city’s dividedness. It hasn’t been so very long ago that "inside the Beltway" was said to mean old, decaying neighborhoods, laden with crime; and "outside the Beltway" was taken to mean neighborhoods of refugees, struggling with crabgrass and pretending to live in the country. None of that was really true, but the Beltway provided a nice big fence through which we could not see.
But this highway is also, for me, a symbol of our spiritual realities. This noxious road, this engine of pollution, this trail we have to use but hate to use (every time she visits us, my mother-in-law says, "Do we have to ride on that road?") – this Beltway teaches us about our spiritual realities.
I want to talk this morning about grief and guilt. Grief and guilt. Two aspects of our spiritual reality, two things we know we want to leave behind. Sixty miles of concrete will teach us about grief and guilt.
First, grief. Have you noticed that the Beltway doesn’t go anywhere? It has neither beginning nor ending, neither start nor finish. It’s just a circle, 60 miles around, going nowhere.
One reporter, writing on the occasion of the Beltway’s anniversary, remembered his parents’ confusion the first time they drove on the new highway. His father insisted, despite all that the mother had read about this new road, that all highways go somewhere. They have to. It was impossible for a highway to go in a big circle. So they drove and drove and about an hour later found themselves right back where they started! Lots of going, lots of driving, but no actual progress. The Beltway is a big busy road that goes nowhere.
Think about how grief works. Grief is emotional energy spent but going nowhere. Lingering grief is emotional energy being burned off, but without real progress. When we cannot stop grieving our losses, we get so caught up in that grief that we find ourselves stumbling on and on, never getting anywhere.
Maybe some of you are caught in that vicious circle right now. Maybe you can feel, even today, what I’m talking about. Some loss is sending you in circles. Maybe it is the death of someone you loved. Maybe it is the loss of a meaningful relationship. Maybe it is the loss of a job or the loss of your finances or the loss of your health. Whatever it is, if you’re grieving that loss, and you are grieving it in such a way that you just cannot get out of it, then you’re going in circles. You find yourself thinking about that loss when you should be doing other things. You are absorbed in your loss, you’re caught in it at the strangest times. You find you just cannot get going. Everything that you do seems to come back on itself. You are traveling in a circle, moving rapidly but not really getting anywhere.
Grief, you see, until it is directed, saps our energies and confuses our hearts. How do you get out of this terrible circle?
Well, a few years back they erected some mileage markers along the Beltway. Even though the road itself goes nowhere, on it are various intersections that do lead somewhere. Drivers just need to know how far it will be until they reach that somewhere. And so they put up mileage markers to give hope that soon there would be a way off the circle.