Over three years ago, I filled a hiking backpack, flew to Europe, and walked El Camino de Santiago. The first day on the Camino, though difficult, was exhilarating. We walked from the beautiful little town of Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port in France, over the Pyrenees, and into Roncesvalles in Spain. The newness of the adventure combined with spectacular views made me excited nearly every step of the way.
The next morning, we were tired and sore, but eager to continue this 500-mile trek. So we set out again, walking for hours, taking in gorgeous scenery, and dining at little cafes or from our packed lunches.
Then we did that again. And again.
Sleep, rise, walk, eat, walk, Mass, eat, sleep. Repeat.
The tiredness soon was eclipsed by pain. My feet ached in a way they never had before. Blisters developed in tender places. The beginning of the day meant pressing my feet into my shoes and then starting the delicate process of walking. After a while, the pain dulled and seemed to fade into my subconscious. However, if we ever paused, my feet gave a fiery reminder to sit down or keep walking.
Yet even these blisters didn’t completely dampen my spirits. I knew they could happen and it was, in a way, part of the Camino adventure. Each day, I offered up my pain for different intentions and this made the journey a pilgrimage instead of a hiking trip.
One day, I no longer wanted to walk.
The intense desires to sleep in, be in the same place for more than 15 hours, or watch a movie were things I hadn’t anticipated when I started walking. There was a definite shift from “This is fun!” to “This is a pilgrimage.” Internally resistant to another day of plodding along, I realized that this adventure would require work and an embracing of the daily struggle.
And then I realized, this is a lot like life.
Each day, I rise, get ready, go teach, grade/plan, eat, and go to sleep. While each year teaching seems to be easier (thank you, Jesus!), it also makes me wonder how long I will remain in this place. On the Camino, there were fewer distractions and less pressure to accomplish a variety of things. The task was very simple: walk. In my ordinary life, the path is less clear, but the idea is still fairly simple. Even as I complicate matters, the Lord asks me to just live each day for Him, following His will.
Jesus is deep, but He isn’t prone to distracting us with complexity. His instructions are simple and generally clear. Sometimes, I run into questioning what the Lord desires of me in a particular moment or stage in my life. Yet most of my problems come from my lack of desire to put in the work of daily following Him.
Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”
One day of following? Sure, no problem. But day after day after day?
The everyday ordinariness of following the Lord’s will is like the ordinariness of walking the Camino. Too quickly it turns from exciting adventure to a feeling of the journey being burdensome. The goal, I believe, is to find joy in the midst of the ordinary. It involves reminding myself that I am in love with a Person and not simply pursuing an idea or a plan.
Although it surprised me how much I wanted to stop walking, I never did because I knew my plan required me to reach Santiago in a specific time frame. And I knew I was too stubborn to quit or take a taxi. Eventually, the joy of walking returned, though it was tempered and a bit different from the initial exuberance. As we neared the end, I tried to savor each aspect of the walk, realizing it would soon end.
This is harder for me to apply to my life now, but I think it is even more crucial that I attempt it. If I was able to follow my own faulty plan, how much more should I strive to follow the Lord’s perfect plan. My time here on earth is rather short, too precious to be wasted refusing to follow God each day. On the Camino, I knew the exact distance to Santiago. I had maps, a clearly marked pathway, and a plane departing Europe on a specific date. The Lord has not given me such clearly defined parameters. This journey, however, is even more urgent because far more depends on it.
Despite weariness or wishing I could stop, the Lord continually calls me onward, walking step by step, whether in pain or in extreme joy. In the midst of it all, He is there beside me, encouraging me to keep moving forward. This race isn’t a sprint, it is more like an ultra-marathon or a long distance hike. May He grant us the endurance to run well and run until the glorious end.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us.