Allison Vesterfelt (@allyvest) is a reader, writer, thinker, dreamer, and the author of Packing Light: Thoughts on Living Life with Less Baggage (Moody Publishers, 2014), a memoir describing how her encounter with the Bible changed her approach to living her life. Here she reads an excerpt from her book (pages 93-95) and answers a question posed by Bible Gateway.
You say your 50-state road trip was inspired by the story of The Rich Young Ruler from the Gospels. How so?
Allison Vesterfelt: A few years ago, I was going through a hard season. I was 25 years old and had just finished graduate school with a degree in Education. I was teaching English. I lived in a great apartment with a good friend. I went to a church I really loved—where I’d found good community and great friends. I’d just been approved for a home loan. And for all intents and purposes, it seemed like this was supposed to be the time in my life when all the pieces of the puzzle should fit together. I was suppose to have “arrived.” I was supposed to feel settled.
And instead, I found myself wondering: Is this it? Is this all there is?
As someone who grew up in the church, and in a Christian home, I had read the story of The Rich Young Ruler dozens, if not hundreds, of times. I’d read it in my morning quiet times. I’d studied it in Bible Study. We’d gone over it in Bible classes in college. I’d heard it preached from stage. But for whatever reason, no matter how many times I read this story, I never really thought about it as a story for me. I thought about it as a nice parable about how rich people would have a hard time getting into heaven because their physical possessions were more important to them than the “Kingdom” priorities. And since I wasn’t rich—by that I mean I drove an old car and couldn’t afford to shop at the same stores where my friends shopped and I couldn’t remember the last time I’d purchased a purse or a pair of shoes from somewhere other than Target—I figured I was safe. I could hold onto this story for the next time I met a “rich” person, but it didn’t apply to me.
But for whatever reason, during this season, when I stumbled across this passage in my morning quiet time, the story hit me in a totally new way. If you’ve grown up in church like I did, I’m guessing you know the story—a young man comes to Jesus and says (I’m paraphrasing) “Jesus, I’ve done all the right stuff. I’ve followed all of the rules. I’ve obeyed your commandments. But now what? What am I supposed to do to get to Heaven?” Jesus tells the young man (again, I’m paraphrasing): “You’re right. You’ve done all the ‘right’ stuff. But there is one thing you lack. Go sell everything you own and give it to the poor.” Of course, the young man walks away sad because he is very wealthy.
When I read the story in this particular season of my life, it suddenly didn’t sound like a story about possessions or money at all. In fact, I identified with The Rich Young Ruler in a way I had never been able to before. I was with him. I felt like I was coming to Jesus saying, “Jesus. I’ve done all the right stuff. I obeyed my parents. I went to graduate school. I got good grades. I go to church. I’ve got a great credit score. But what about the abundant life you promised? How am I supposed to get to heaven?”
I wasn’t asking about the place you go when you die, but about Heaven—the tangible presence of Christ and the empowering of His Spirit we’re promised while still on earth.
“My life is boring. My life is dry. My life is too ordered,” I felt like telling him. And when I said it that way, I could practically feel him whisper back: “You’re right. You’ve done all the ‘right’ stuff. But there is one thing you lack. You have to let go of everything. All the stuff you think makes you so special. All of your awards and achievements. The trinkets and trophies you hold onto that make you feel so good about yourself. Your list of accomplishments. Even your attachments to friends, your ideas about yourself and how the world works—none of it is going to lead you to the Kingdom of Heaven. You’re going to have to let go of all of it.”
In that moment, I felt incredibly convicted. If I wanted the Zoe life—the vibrant—life promised in Scripture, I was going to have to be willing to live unattached to the things of this world. It wasn’t just physical possessions—although those played a part. It was also my ideas about myself, my attachment to others, my illusions of control. I was going to have to be able to let go, to live with an open hand, to trust God was able to provide for me in ways I wasn’t even able to provide for myself.
Bio: Allison Vesterfelt lives in Nashville, Tennessee with her husband, Darrell. She’s on Twitter and Facebook.