By Tom Ehrich

I arrived home two weeks ago. Today was the first day I could live into my desired next phase: writing at the kitchen table until the sun comes up, moving to my office in an outbuilding, coming up for air at lunch, doing errands, returning to my office until dinner, spending the evening with my wife.

For this day to happen, a slew of steps needed to be taken first. Welcome my wife home from California a week ago. Get furniture in the right places and boxes to a storage unit. Work with my sons to get beds set up and rugs laid. Call in an electrician to fix wiring and a thermostat. Get my computers set up.

In other words, I couldn't just walk out the door on a 45-degree day, flip a switch and be up.

My 4,100-mile pilgrimage-by-car was the same way. It took months of planning, significant financial support, a rental car, an understanding family, generous friends, and ample time.

I now know that faith happens this way, too. I can't just flip a switch and be bathed in the glow of belief. Important steps need to happen first.

I had to try life on my own and fail. I had to make a halfway approach to God and fail. I had to pour myself into the activities of faith and fail. I had to listen to the people whom God sent, and see the signs God laid before me, and read the Word God made possible, and sing God's musical stairway to heaven.

A living faith is the culmination, not the starting-point. There is no set path that applies to all people. Faith happens my way, and your way, and countless other ways around us. Faith starts in different places and leads to different outcomes. I don't see a single product called "faith," but rather a journey of infinite variety that leads to a God whom we see differently.

What we have in common isn't a set language or discipline or outcome, but a sense of need or quest or insufficiency that drives us onward.

My desired new phase in life might strike you as intensely boring, or impossible to achieve. But if we could both step back from the particulars, I think we would see at least one common element: a desire to live a whole life.

It's like my drive. I received mostly encouragement, but every now and then someone would tell me what I ought to be doing, where I ought to be going, and how I had messed by not doing this or that. I didn't take it personally, but as a sign of how much it mattered that something of meaning and purpose happen along the way.

I think we ache for meaning and purpose. Much needs to happen first, and we might get discouraged. But if we can avoid rushing in and flipping switches, I think meaning and purpose will appear.