Learning to Walk with Flexibility and Gratitude (El Camino de Santiago de Compostela, Part 2)
The constant chatter of daily life had become so noisy for me that I was willing to travel 6,000 miles to walk El Camino de Santiago de Compostela (translated The Way of Saint James), an ancient Christian pilgrimage. The quest to find the quiet of God’s still small voice would take me halfway across the world and out of my middle-class life in southern California (you can read about the first part of my journey here).
This entire journey would break almost every comfort zone I have. I am not an athlete so the notion of walking about 12 miles a day for two weeks could seem daunting. I am not a camper so the notion of sleeping in communal bunk houses could seem like roughing it. I am not an adventurist by nature so the idea of not having creature comforts (bathrooms, food, water, etc.) available to me at all times could seem impossible. Everything I would require for the next three weeks needed to fit into a 26 liter backpack.
Yet, as I was about to embark on this adventure of walking El Camino de Santiago de Compostela, I felt excited and at utterly at peace.
Before leaving for Madrid, I assembled a team of prayer warriors to cover me in prayer. Before my arrival on The Camino, I would endure 20 hours of travel and three airplanes to get from California to Madrid, followed by many more hours of travel by train from Madrid to Leon and Leon to Ponferrada before taking my first step on The Camino.
Once there, the daily rhythm of The Camino began with arising before sunrise in our rooming houses (some with as few as 3 bunk beds to a room, and others are large as 65 bunk beds to a room), packing up our bed and dressing for the day, walking for 5-6 hours, with a couple of breaks for meals and bathrooms. The walks for me were a religious experience. I would listen to worship music, pray for those praying for me, pray for my family and those on my prayer list, ask God questions and wait on His answers, marvel at the immense beauty of His creation. When I arrived in the next village, I’d choose a rooming house, claim a bed, bathe and then wash out my clothes and hang them to dry. The afternoons usually held time for journaling, napping, meeting other pilgrims and a wonderful evening meal.
There are many lessons to experience and learn on a journey like The Camino. The first lesson for me was flexibility, and the second was gratitude.
In an effort to maintain control over life, I can be rigid at times. This trip was a wake-up call to let go of control and fully depend on God. The only way to do so was to let go of any expectations I had and remain flexible for the people, places and experiences that would cross my path.
Having been home now for several weeks, I will confess that it was easier to release control and remain flexible on The Camino than it is at home. At home there is still a propensity to want to control situations and outcomes and it is a daily effort to remember that God doesn’t need my help to keep things going in my life.
The key to learning to let go and concede control to God (as if we ever really had control to begin with) is to believe that God wants the best for us and live our lives under this reality. It’s not uncommon to feel knocked around by the circumstances of our lives, so what will it take for us to believe that God wants what is good and holy for us?
I can’t help but be reminded of Matthew 7:7-11: “Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone? Or if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”
I was in Spain, on this path where millions of Christians have walked before me, and I trusted that God wanted the best for me and would keep me safe and meet my needs.
Another lesson that quickly arose for me was gratitude – the sheer and utter joy in the small things in life. Two of my favorite Bible verses underscore this important lesson:
Philippians 4:6: “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18: “Rejoice always, 17pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
Without the noise of everyday life clamoring for my attention, it was easy to reflect on all of the gifts from God on this journey and give back utter and complete thanks. From day to day, I didn’t know what the road would hold for me (flat or hilly, crowded or quiet, through forests or along main roads); I didn’t know were my next meal would be or if I would have enough water for this leg of the journey. I didn’t know where the next rest stop and bathroom would be or where I would be sleeping on any given night, and if there would be a bed for me in the town I stopped.
Each sunrise was breathtaking. Each bed at night was a welcome relief to my tired body. Yes, I was brimming over with gratitude for these daily gifts, for God’s provision, and all without any help from me.
Are there places in your life where God is encouraging you to be more flexible? If you are resisting releasing control, pray about your willingness to do so.
What are five things that you are grateful for today? Take the time to write them down and consider them and remind yourself to do so again before you go to bed tonight. What a privilege to start and end each day with gratitude!