When we last left our unlikely pilgrim, she was contemplating the nature of sacrifice in a cow pasture in Spain. Inspired by Romans 12:1, she set out to “present (her) body as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God,” by walking the last 80 miles of El Camino de Compostela, an ancient pilgrimage route. Her romantic notions of noble self-sacrifice were punctured by pain and exhaustion, and she began to wonder: Just what was God up to here?
This is how my last day on the Camino began: My Pilgrim’s Passport went missing.
The pilgrim’s passport is a booklet in which you collect stamps at stops along the way, everywhere from charming chapels in the woods to bars and hotels. At the end of your Camino, you present the passport at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, and you receive your compostela, a spiritual diploma that attests to your accomplishment.
On that last day as we prepared to walk the final miles of our Camino, my passport was nowhere to be found. After a week of carefully guarding it and diligently getting it stamped, it was suddenly missing. I tore apart our backpacks, our suitcases and every last pocket on my many-pocketed hiking pants. It was just gone.
I was flustered. Mystified. Angry. After all this, after pushing myself beyond exhaustion day after day, now, I wouldn’t even get my certificate? Are you @$%&* kidding me?
Like a demented drill sergeant, words of anger and frustration barked out the cadence for my final march to Santiago:
I. Can’t. Believe. This.
I. Can’t. Believe. This.
On and on I stomped, furious that after my fantasies of a Camino filled with spiritual revelation had already been dashed, even this small pleasure of getting that certificate would be denied me.
And then I swear I heard God laugh.
I heard Him say, “Really? Is that what this has been about — a certificate, a report card, a Gold Star?”
And then I laughed. A rueful, I-can’t-believe-what-a-dope-I-am, laugh.
You see, the only really unbearable pain of the week wasn’t physical. No, the worst pain I had on my Camino, the pain that made me cry hot, bitter tears, was my own embarrassment and shame.
Now, I had no illusions about being the first to reach our meeting place each day; neither did I believe I would come limping in last. I figured I would be a respectable middle-of-the-pack; a good solid B-.
That’s why it was so hard to watch pilgrim after pilgrim stride past me in what (seemed to me) to be pain- and fatigue-free spiritual ecstasy, while I struggled. And why, when I did come limping in last one day, I didn’t hear the love and encouragement in my friends’ cheers; what my distorted ears heard was pity and judgment.
You know how it is. When you’re tired, or sick or discouraged, you are exquisitely vulnerable to thoughts that flow from old, ulcerated wounds. The worst pain on my Camino was knowing that my weakness and failure were on display for all to see, a dread that has thrummed throughout my life. And then, to not even get my compostela — my gold star — well, that was just more failure than I could bear.
Although not in the way I imagined, God showed up on my Camino.
I so wanted to offer Him a perfect gift in this pilgrimage; instead He honored my gift in its imperfection.
I wanted to achieve and get my gold star; He wanted to release me from the tyranny of achievement.
I wanted to be alone in my shame; He provided loving friends to surround me.
God chose this moment, when I was at my weakest and most worn out, to ask, “Are you tired of this yet? Are you ready to let it go?”
Yes. Yes I am.
God chose this moment to ask, “Are you ready to believe that you are of infinite worth for no other reason than you are my beloved daughter?”
Yes, I am.
This was seismic stuff. And it wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t lost that blasted passport. I believe that in His infinite mercy — and sense of humor? — God hid my pilgrim’s passport from me so I could come to this moment. (I say this because after God and I had a good laugh at my ridiculous fit over losing the passport, I suddenly knew where it was — in a hidden pocket of a jacket that was packed in my suitcase. And sure enough, when we got to the hotel in Santiago, there it was.)
“Present your body as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God,” (Romans 12:1). This was my plan for the Camino.
The verse that follows it (Romans 12:2) was God’s plan:
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
Yes. It would take a renewed mind to reject the world’s definition — my definition — of success and failure, worthy and unworthy. It takes a transformed mind to begin to see what God deems good and acceptable and perfect. Those last steps of my Camino were just the beginning of my pilgrimage.