One year ago, on June 3, I sat out on a journey in which I found my life. To be more technical, I went on a pilgrimage. I traveled for a little over 50 days, mostly in Kenya and in Israel. This was a focused trip. I had some sense already that God might be leading me to one of the two places. But, it was not clear.
Pilgrimage is a lost spiritual quest. Evangelicals don’t do it very much any more. I suppose we think it is a Catholic thing, or maybe even Muslim. We believe God is everywhere. And of course, He is. So, why go in search of Him?
But, just because God is everywhere doesn’t mean that we should not grope for Him, or seek for Him. Just because God has set for us the times and boundaries of our habitation, long before we came to be, does not mean that it is not fitting to occasionally intentionally see if the boundaries set might be a bit broader than we originally thought.
I think the main reason that we do not more often go on pilgrimage is fear. We must plunge into insecurity. I remember literally thinking to myself last year, “Well, I suppose it is a bit more dangerous. The likelihood of being abducted or blown up by terrorists is much higher in a place like Nairobi and Jerusalem.” (If only I had known that I would literally have bombs flying over my head in the Holy City, and that Kenya would experience a new wave of terrorism when I moved to Africa….).
But, more than we are afraid of entering the unknown – I think we are afraid of leaving the known. I think we are afraid that God is going to take us away from something we hold dear. A real pilgrimage wrecks idols. A real pilgrimage is an intentional distancing of yourself from your life, in order to find your life.
We cannot bear the thought. What if God calls me away from that person? What if He takes me away from that job? What if He removes me from the ministry that has come to define me? What if I have to leave my extended family? What if He shatters that friendship? that career? that hope? that dream?
Pilgrimage – real pilgrimage – is surrender. It is casting yourself upon the God of the whole earth. It is the conscious decision to know a world that is bigger than your life, and a God Who deserves the prerogative of directing you in it wherever He would.
My pilgrimage did in fact alter everything. I lost living near my Mom and Dad, my brothers and sisters, my family. I lost getting to see my nephews and nieces grow up. As I left - I knew it meant that over time most of my friendships would fade. I realized I couldn’t transport my swank apartment, my carefully chosen antique furniture from the late 1800s, or most of my beloved books. There could be none of that. Everything that it wasn’t practical to keep in a small corner of my parent’s house had to be sold – or given away.
But – what stands out to me – exactly one year later – is that this death to the old life was incredibly worth it. Jesus words ring truer to me now than ever before. He said it so plainly. “Whoever seeks to save his life, will lose it. But whoever loses his life – for My sake - will find it.”
One year later, I have nine sons. I have children knocking on my door who need food, and who want love and who are finding Jesus. I have a new family, a new home, new furniture – and yes – even some new books.
One year later I feel as though I lost something very small in order to gain something immeasurably grand. It is as though a kernel of grain fell into the ground, but only so it could spring up with far more. It died, but only so that it would not remain alone. Don’t get me wrong: I love my parents and my family and my friends…and my books and my old apartment and my antique furniture…dearly. But if I had held onto them, I would have lost my life. In the very relinquishing of them – in the act of dying – I found my life 100 times over. For, only when we let go of the ephemeral can we hold onto the eternal. Only when we let go of the past can we face the future. Only when we pack up the tents can we move into homes of stone. Only when we die – can we really live.