Category Archives: Pilgrimage

Don’t Give Up

Been struggling lately? Feeling a little confused? Discouraged? Losing motivation?
Perhaps, temptations seem to be getting more intense. Your weaknesses seem more evident. You may be wondering if you are actually moving backwards, rather than forward.
If so, let me encourage you. You have reached a critical point in your spiritual development. Don’t lose heart. And most definitely, do not give up!

Contrary to appearances, our emotional turmoil may actually be a positive sign. Our struggles may actually be a sign of growing pains in our spiritual life—we may even be on the verge of making a major breakthrough.

In contrast, when we become complacent in our spiritual life or are too pre-occupied with our own concerns or pursuing our own happiness, we may feel just fine. We may be able to successfully distract ourselves from our inner longing for God. We may be able to avoid thinking about the inner work we need to do to keep growing and maturing.

However, once we turn our attention and intention (back) to God’s calling on our life, we will certainly soon be brought back to the place where we last left off.  We may have shrunk back from the difficulty of our spiritual journey, and now that we have resumed our pilgrimage, we have to face once again what we couldn’t face earlier. We are being given another opportunity to see and feel our loss, our failure, our weakness, our longing, our frustration, our disappointment, or something else that has been too difficult or painful to face.
So what should we do when we find ourselves newly committed but struggling as much or more than ever?

The same things that are always appropriate and most helpful whenever we want to go deeper, to grow spiritually, and to serve Christ more fully and effectively in our lives. We need to…
• Face reality—ask yourself, what is true about your life and circumstances that you need to acknowledge, whether you like it or not?
• Feel our feelings—without running away from them or distracting yourself, can you let the depth and intensity of your feelings teach you something you need to learn?
• Ask God for help—are you willing to pray that the Holy Spirit will help you to see what you need to see, to have courage to face the truth, and to have enough strength to act on whatever is revealed?
• Look for signs that God is actually part of the process—can you identify ways that God is at work through your struggles? Perhaps the Spirit is helping you to identify important questions; is bringing greater clarity about what’s most important to you; is providing opportunities to grapple with something you know you need to deal with; or, is bringing others into your life at the right time.
• Thank God that we are being given an opportunity to grow—can you hold fast to your faith that God will see you through this current struggle and lead you to the place the Holy Spirit wants to take you?
• Ask others to walk with us—who could you reach out to in order to get the support and help you need to face what you need to face and work through the pain or difficulty you are experiencing?

Facing the truth about how hard our spiritual journey can be a good and necessary thing to do, providing we don’t get stuck there. As the Apostle Paul teaches us by his example, we must also hold on to our faith in the midst of our struggles so that we persevere in the midst of them and grow through them.  He writes:
“We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed…Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.” (2 Corinthians 4:8-9, 16, NIV)

No matter how great your struggles may be, today is the day of opportunity for you. Believe it. Pray it. Live it….one step at a time.
Grace and peace in Christ,

For more on how to navigate better the spiritual journey, order my book, One Step at a Time: A Pilgrim’s Guide to Spirit-Led Living, at

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A Grounded Life

Triacastela, Spain. 145 km (87 miles) to go to reach Santiago. Both of Jill ´s ankles are wrapped to get her through the remaining week, my sons are more than ready to go home now, and I ´m fantasizing about The Original Pancake House, American movies, and sleeping in my own bed.

Yet  the pilgrimage is having the effect I hoped for and pray for every day. The heavy packs and 25,000 or so steps we take each day are  making  us very  conscious of the ground under  our feet. The experience is intensely physical, but the meaning of it is profoundly  spiritual.

The concrete, physical realities of my own bodily limitations and needs mean  I have  to choose my path carefully, and soberly weigh options before deciding to take a detour to pursue an interest. The choices I make matter greatly for myself as well as for those who travel with me on the journey. I cannot ignore the pain in my feet indefinitely or my needs for water, food, shade, rest, encouragement, conversation, friendship, or hope.

How far can I truly go in a day? What will be the cost of waiting for the sun to come up before starting out? How do I need to adjust  my plans to adequately care for my wife ´s needs as well as my own and my sons ´? When do we need to slow down and rest so that ultimately we can go further and get more out of the experience? How will we negotiate our competing values and interests?

All of the questions and issues stemming from our pilgrimage experience are helping me to become more grounded in my life–which simply means recognizing better the real world in which I live, and the implications for my decisions as I live out my life. As opposed to dwelling in the realms of ideas, hopes, dreams and imagination (where I love to live), being grounded focuses my attention on what is real–on myself, others, situations, and the world around me as they truly are in the present moment.

Being more grounded allows me to see my wife ´s agony and need for rest and support better. I am able to accept  one son ´s fear and distress, and the other ´s boredom and longing, and respond to  each one  more constructively. I can notice what they truly enjoy and appreciate, as opposed to what I want them to care about and value. I can better see what their faces are expressing, and hear what they are not saying with words. Being well grounded requires slowing down, paying attention to details, shutting my mouth, listening, asking thoughtful questions, feeling my feelings, trying to articulate what is going on inside my heart and mind, and continually asking God to help me to see what I need to see, to have courage to face the truth, and for strength to act on what is revealed.

Being more grounded in the present is a stepping stone to becoming a better person and spiritual leader, as frustrating as having to admit my own limitations may be, and as painful as aching physically is, and as disappointing as experiencing my own weakness and self-centeredness can be. ¨Who am I? ¨ and ¨Who might I become? ¨do not yield the same answers. Yet by honestly facing the realities that come from exploring the first question, I have a better chance of creating a more satisfying answer to the second question. The more I can face what is, the more I can pursue what might be–and expect fruitful results.  Being well grounded in  reality also helps me to lead and serve better, teach and inspire more effectively, and encourage more powerfully.

I am learning much about myself–some of which is painful, some of which brings me peace and joy, but all of which is giving me greater clarity and hope for my life. As I anticipate continuing to pursue my calling to know God better, to teach, and to offer spiritual leadership and guidance to others, I see how much depends on being well grounded.

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Pilgrimage–El Camino 2006

Leon, Spain. Over half way to Santiago de Compostela. We ´ve walked over 250 miles, starting in St. Jean Pied de Port, France. We crossed the Pyrenees, through dense fog and at times heavy rain, reaching Roncesvalles, Spain, wet, sore, and exhausted. What had we gotten ourselves into?

Over the centuries, the greatest spiritual leaders in the Christian tradition  have often  described spiritual growth in painful terms. Suffering leads to new insights and depth in our relationship with God. Therese of Avila, among others, describe the three fold mystical path as one of purgation, illumination, and communion. One type of experience leads to the next. Yet, the process is often cyclical throughout our lives.

I was drawn to El Camino (the pilgrimage pathway), because I wanted greater understanding about my life, my future, and God. I understood that first I might need to undergo some “purgation” as part of the process. I don’t like suffering any more than anyone else, but I was willing to do whatever it may take to move forward with my life. And if purgation could mean being freed a little more from the things that are holding me back, from anxiety, fear, self-centeredness, anger or any other self-defeating or wrong attitude or behavior, I was all for it.

Most days so far have been long trudges over rocky paths, up and down hills, or through arid wastelands–though we have seen some beautiful valleys and mountains along the way. The temperature the last few days has hit 100. Our feet blister, ache or swell. Getting up at 5:15 a.m. has gotten old. Today, we are taking a rest day. We ´re that exhausted.

Still, the walking has been an incredible, grounding and illuminating  experience. Most of the time, I ´m not aware of what is happening internally while I ´m walking. Then, all of a sudden, emotion will surge out of me–anger, longing, sadness, frustration, disappointment, regret, relief, hope. (More than a few gangly weeds along the Camino are no longer standing, because of a sudden thrashing from my walking stick!) Then, clarity and conviction. We ´ve had a number of difficult, but very fruitful relational conflicts and  conversations as well. Other times, we ´ve laughed, poked each other, teased, and felt really close.

Early on, as I was praying for clarity about my calling, I heard a response that made sense: “This pilgrimage is about preparing you to hear your call–not to tell you what your call is.” Though I like easy answers when they ´re available, I realized that I needed to be changed internally first in order to be able to understand and, more importantly, to accept  God ´s next call. Otherwise, I may keep trying to pour new experiences and insights into old wineskins.  

The most surprising revelation so far came during one of my times of solitude–when I walk for long stretches by myself. Out of the blue, I heard myself tell God that I was fairly satisfied with my spiritual life as it is, based on what I know about God and spirituality. Maybe a 9 out of 10. I know there ´s an infinite universe worth of knowledge about God out there, but I suspect that most of it is well out of my grasp. Futhermore, don’t the huge needs of the world call for Christians to roll up their sleeves and devote themselves   to concrete, this-world concerns, as the hands and feet of Christ?

Well, yes, generally speaking, it ´s true: Christians are needed everywhere to meet human needs and to be actively engaged in developing solutions to local and world issues. Nevertheless, almost as soon as I announced my intention to become more practically minded, I knew I was being led down this line of thinking for a different outcome than I had imagined.

Paul ´s words to the Philippians came to mind. He said that nothing mattered more to him than knowing Jesus Christ and the power of his suffering and resurrection. Paul was very involved in the “real world” as a church planter, evangelist, fundraiser, author, public speaker and teacher. Yet, his heart and passion was first and foremost for his relationship with God through Christ. His words struck home.

Does God want me to risk “wasting” my life, my time, my energy, pursuing a deeper spiritual life? It seems the answer for me is “Yes.”

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