What do you imagine pilgrims to be like?
Have you ever thought of yourself as a pilgrim?
Are you picturing settlers big black hats with brown buckles eating a thanksgiving feast with the ship called the Mayflower floating in the background? Or are you envisioning a backpack clad traveler journeying through foreign lands surrounded by exotic experiences?
Are you, is your daily life, the embodiment of the word pilgrim?
If I had been asked a month ago if I would describe my life and depict myself as a pilgrim, I would have brushed the question off as ridiculous and moved on in a fleeting breath. But then I encountered this verse:
“Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
who have set their hearts on pilgrimage.”
Psalm 84:5 (NIV)
This verse has stuck and stuck deep. Is my heart set on pilgrimage?
At first all I could imagine is one who travels and one who journeys. Isn’t that what a pilgrim is?
That is not me. There is not much traveling in my days, I’m more of a homebody. I spend a fair amount of time putting miles on my minivan, but it is through the repetitive trek of daily responsibilities that the miles accumulate, not from road trips or grand adventures.
I would consider myself more of a plant than a pilgrim, stuck deep into a single spot. Watching pilgrims pass by, maybe even interacting with them at a moment of pause on their journey. Offering encouragement in hopes of refreshing them as they continue on.
I tell myself, there is nothing wrong with being planted. It is a great responsibility and honor to care for those who need a place of pause on their journey. Being planted, rooted, is a good purpose too.
So my quandary has been, how does someone who is planted set their heart on pilgrimage?
The Course of Life
If you were to look up the word “pilgrimage” on Webster.com you would find a definition that reads, “the course of life on earth.” If you look up the word “pilgrim” one of the definitions offered is “one who travels to a holy place as a devotee.”
Just because I was having so much fun in the dictionary (I’m kind of a nerd that way) I discovered the word “course” can mean “a succession of lessons.” An example would be if I were to take a “course” in photography, it would be a succession of lessons about cameras, lighting, and getting the right shot.
Pause for a moment and think about all of the lessons that you have already learned in life.
My mind is nearly overcome by examples of life’s succession of lessons. The lesson of simple repetitive tasks I now take for granted like tying a shoe or how to use a fork & knife. To more complex lessons like how to be a good student and how to manage personal finances. On going lessons of forgiveness, patience, resiliency, being a loving wife & mother.
I took these definitions and meanings and verses and began putting them together like Lego blocks to see what I could build from these pieces.
What if setting my heart on pilgrimage, to being a pilgrim, is to be devoted to traveling to a holy place by moving through a succession of lessons in my life on earth?
Perhaps my pilgrimage is not a journey of miles traveled but of living out this verse:
“Learn as you go along what pleases the Lord.”
Ephesians 5:10 (TLB)
Learn as we go. A succession of lessons. Devoted to traveling to a holy place.
“I’m not saying that I have this all together,
that I have it made.
But I am well on my way,
reaching out for Christ,
who has so wondrously reached out for me.
Friends, don’t get me wrong:
By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this,
but I’ve got my eye on the goal,
where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus.
I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back.”
Philippians 3:13-14 (Message)
Blessed are those whose strength is in the Lord, who are devoted and set on learning along the way what pleases the Lord, for they have set their hearts on pilgrimage.
Physically, I may leave and return to the same spot each day. If I can engage in learning a lesson in my daily activities, I will end my day further along in the course of life.
The hard part about the courses and lessons of life we journey through is that we do not preregister for them with a set syllabus or clearly identified itinerary. Even if I have a “plan” to learn lessons in a specific area, the course of life may have a different message for the day.
I do not know if my day will hold lessons on patience, perseverance, loyalty, honesty, tragedy, sacrifice, endurance, joy, articulation, marketing, vehicle maintenance, cooking, or listening. Or some crazy combination of these and more.
I suppose the uncertainty in the lessons in life is why pilgrims must be devoted.
If you were going to go on an uncertain journey which included a succession of unexpected lessons, who would you want to take with you?
A devoted pilgrim.
A devoted pilgrim who is loving, affectionate, tender, faithful, caring, compassionate, forgiving, kind, understanding, passionate, and fervent.
Those are definitely the kind of travel mates that I would want to journey through life’s lessons with.
As I look at the list of adjectives for a devoted pilgrim, there is one name that perfectly covers all of those traits – Jesus. The one who sacrificed everything in an act of love revealing His full measure of devotion to us so that we may “have life and have it to the full.” (John 10:10 NIV).
Jesus is a living example of a devoted pilgrim, pressing on to the holy place and pleasing God along the way. What a better travel mate could there be than one who has already walked the road of a devoted life, who knows already what pleases God.
Travel with those who have the experience. Travel with those who have hearts set on pilgrimage.
Live It Out
Precious Pilgrim, I do not know what lessons life is throwing at you right now. What I do know is this, that God loves you so much. God crafted and created you. God goes before you and stands behind you all at the same time, every step of your life’s journey.
Some of the days that you and I trek through are going to be hard. There will be suffering, pain, misunderstandings, hurt, loss, grief, and rejection. There will be times where we want to just be given the answers to life’s lessons, when we beg and plead to know now what we do not understand.
There will be times that something we hoped for does not become realized, or passes us by. Times where we miss it and fall short. Times that will test our measure of devotion before we feel fully prepared to be tested.
It is in those trying times that we need to remember our strength is in the Lord. By turning our hearts to the Lord, to His lessons for us, can we really become devoted pilgrims who can press on through the course of life.
Here are some questions that can help you progress in your travels today:
How can you set your heart on pilgrimage?
What are some of the lessons that you are currently working on learning?
Who are some of the devoted pilgrims or travelers that you are journeying through life with?
Do they know about the lessons that you are learning?
Can their experiences aid your learning process?
What actions can you take to become more devoted to the lessons that life has for you?
What scriptures can help you with your pilgrimage?
Pray Through It
Thank You for Jesus, for sending Him to pilgrimage through life on earth as a devoted example in flesh and blood for us. Thank You for all of the travel mates out there who have set their hearts on learning as we go along. Thank You for going before us and standing behind us.
Lord, please help us to grow in devotion to You and to each other. Help us to be eager to learn what pleases You in the specific circumstances and situations that we are at in our lives. Help us to keep moving onward, little by little, each day in our lessons. Help us to become more loving, affectionate, tender, faithful, caring, compassionate, forgiving, kind, understanding, passionate, and fervent.
Lord, may we find the blessing of strength in You. Strength to remain devoted to You and to others. Strength to press on when the pain comes. Strength to persevere in our pilgrimages.
In the devoted and persevering name of Jesus, Amen.