Slowing Down and Traveling Light (El Camino de Santiago de Compostela, Part 4)

Written by: Amy Hemseri-Sabala

This summer I traveled to Spain to walk part of The Camino de Santiago (translated The Way of Saint James), an ancient Christian pilgrimage (you can read the first three parts of my story here). I am not a hiker, so to say that this was an adventure would be a huge understatement. Sometimes it’s better to be a little naïve about all of the specifics, because had I known what the pilgrimage would really be like, I may not have found the courage to go. I set off like a turtle with my small backpack, walking sticks and a strong faith that God would protect me, lead me, and most importantly meet me on the journey.

The first four days of this journey were amazing and euphoric, but the next four days were challenging, physically, emotionally and spiritually.

It shouldn’t have surprised me, but alas it did. Hanging on my backpack was a four-inch scallop shell (a symbol of the Camino pilgrimage).  Inside the middle of the shell I had written the names of all of the people that had committed to pray for me through this journey. I can’t describe how much their prayers meant to me and kept me going as the journey got tough. Along the edge of the shell, I wrote the prayer requests that people had given to me.  It was an amazing privilege for me to pray for each one of my prayer warriors and their prayer requests daily.

On day eight, two-thirds of my way through this journey, I hit the bottom, emotionally, physically and spiritually. I had hurt my knee and the pain was excruciating. The weather had been lousy, the rooming houses were loud and chaotic. I was lonely for my friends and family and just wanted to be back home in my own bed. I contemplated quitting. Surely no one would fault me for getting this far and then stopping because of a sprained knee?

At this critical juncture, I stopped into a café and put an ice pack on my knee and thought about what this experience had meant to me.  One lesson that came up immediately is that it’s OK to slow down; life isn’t a race.  That was truly an “aha” moment for me: my type-A personality always strives to do more and more and more.  My body was telling me to slow down if I had any hope of finishing this journey. After a while, I got up and slowly started back on the path. Not 15 minutes  later, I met Julie, another weary traveler along the way who also was walking slowly (her reason was blisters – lots of them), and we began to tarry together. I had only hoped to walk six miles that day (a sharp decrease from the 12-15 miles per day I had been doing), but Julie and I ended up walking nine miles!  The lesson for me was to just keep moving and God would handle the rest.

The weather improved and the sun began to shine again.  Julie and I ended up walking together for the next several days, and picking up another two women along the way.  Our merry band of four improved my loneliness and I considered each of them a gift from God to sustain me on this path.

As we neared Santiago, and the conclusion of this adventure, I realized that life is about the journey, not the destination.

How often we set our eyes on the goal, and miss the incredible experiences between here and there. On our last day, as we left the countryside and entered into the large city of Santiago, the feelings were overwhelming.  When we finally reached the cathedral, the tears that flowed were appropriate. We passed the cathedral and went to the pilgrims’ office to obtain our Compostela, our certificate of completion written entirely in Latin.  Following that, we attended the pilgrim’s mass at the cathedral and this journey officially came to a close.

As I sat journaling that evening in my hotel room (no rooming house for me as I needed the quiet to reflect on this experience), I realized how absolutely important it is to travel light.  Somehow I managed this journey with just a very small backpack and the faith that God would provide for me as needed.  It made me recognize how much stuff I have at home, and how that stuff can take over and control me, rather than serving me. The Israelites traveled in the desert for 40 years and I have to imagine that they traveled light.

I think that God can better move us when we are not so heavy laden with possessions.  When Jesus first called the disciples, he said, “Come, follow me” – not, go home and get your stuff then come, but rather stop what you are doing and follow me just as you are.  Later when Jesus sent the disciples out, “These were his instructions: Take nothing for the journey except a staff – no bread, no bag, no money in your belts.” (Mark 6:9).  In other words, travel light.

This particular journey was coming to a close, but the lessons of the Camino will have an effect on me for a very long time.  I left Southern California on a quest to reconnect with God as life had become chaotic and loud.

I found God on the Camino, for sure, but I realized that I certainly did not need to travel all the way to Spain to commune with God.

God is always with us.  “The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” (Deuteronomy 31:8).

Share with us in the comments:

In what ways has your “stuff” taken control over your life, and are you ready to trust God and go when he says, “Come, follow me”?

How can you “keep moving and know that God will handle the rest” in your life today?


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