From Doubt to Delight

How I Learned to Embrace the Journey

Ten years ago, one of my best friends died of cancer.  David was a young man of 49 at the time.  Our friendship had been forged in men's retreats, Saturday morning prayer sessions at our church, and on short-term mission trips.  He loved Jesus.  I was heartbroken at his passing.  I still miss my friend.  My grief pushed me toward a period of deep reflection.  What did I truly believe?  What were my priorities in life?  Was the way I spent my time and resources an authentic reflection of those priorities?  

That process culminated in a decision 5 years ago to leave my occupation of nearly 20 years in public education to pursue a new path.  At the time, I wasn't even sure what path I would take, but I knew the first adjustment needed to come in my relationship with God.   I made time, seeking a deeper intimacy with God and longing to know and understand the life and ministry of Jesus up close.  I wanted to see what would happen if I were to give God my undivided attention for a season.  With this in mind, and with the support of my wife (whose sandals I am unworthy to tie), I took a sabbatical which began by spending 40 days living in silence at a monastic community in the South Texas desert.

What happened next was completely unexpected.  I thought that life on the mountaintop would be bliss.  I hoped God would let me take a peek at the landscape of life above the din of noise below.  Instead it was much like the Colorado mountains I have climbed.  At times above the treeline I can find myself exposed to the elements, wishing for the comfort of the familiar and fighting to breathe.  I was not fully prepared for the journey I found myself on.  Now free of distraction, I was finally able to hear God's voice saying to me "So you are ready to give me your undivided attention?  There are a few things I've been waiting to talk to you about.  Let's get started."

Initially, my heart grew heavy within me.   I went through the stages of grief, felt sorry for myself, considered leaving.  But God would not let me go.   I wrestled and prayed for 40 days in the desert, wondering most of the time if I could make it.  Also wondering if I would find joy in the along the way.  Patiently, God waited for me.  There in the desert he met me and walked with me.   I began to understand that the longing in my heart was to be a part of God's plans today instead of asking him to be a part of mine tomorrow.  God took me on a journey from doubt to delight and I grew in my ability to live more humbly, trust God completely despite my circumstances, and know His grace and unconditional love in greater measure than ever before.  

By degrees, the compass of my life began to point in a new direction.  Small habits and decisions came into sharper focus.  For much of my life I had lived with God in the big ways, but not in the small.    I grappled with contradictions I had excused for far too long.  Why did I think that pressuring those closest to me toward God was better than inviting them into His life through mine?  Could I follow Him and yet rationalize episodic outbursts of anger toward my own family?  I wanted my love for them to look more like His.  In light of  the words and ministry of Jesus,  could I ignore the plight of the poor and downtrodden?  How could I bear the name of Christ and not his burdens? 

A short time later I heard about a unique place that brought together three great passions of mine--prayer, people, and the outdoors.  I made the trek to the Camino de Santiago in Portugal and Spain.   Growing up bilingual and bicultural (English and Spanish) made the trip that much more attractive.  Each day on the Camino, I woke with the sun, joining hundreds of other pilgrims, carrying my backpack down the long road to Santiago de Compostela .  I listened to and prayed for my companions.  We shared each others joys and sorrows.  I encouraged and received encouragement.   It became a trail marked by friendship and camaraderie as well as silence and solitude.   It is not often that both things can coexist so peacefully within the same space.  

The trip became a metaphor for life itself.  Here the process was perhaps even more valuable than the goal.  The journey more than the destination.  Too much of my life had been about getting to a destination and not enough had been spent on embracing the journey.  The trip to Santiago became an experience of both brokenness and beauty.   One trip to the  Camino became two and then a third.  With all of its physical, emotional, and spiritual adversity, I have learned to love the Camino and the pilgrims who seek and sojourn upon it.  

These experiences led to the formation of The Scruffy Pilgrim.  A way to foster discovery of God's deep and unconditional love for us.   A way to couple contemplative life with God's mission to every corner of our world.  A  way to meet others on their terms and allow God's love to flow freely to them through our own brokenness.  We are now laying the groundwork to serve the pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago full time.  To share in their Camino and to include them in ours.

Embrace the Journey,

Rob Pennison