As many of you know, I just got back from backpacking the Camino in Portugal and Spain. It was an absolutely incredible experience, and words and pictures will never do justice to what we experienced. For the past 2 weeks, all I’ve known is another country’s culture, and beyond that, the Camino culture. And I’ve fallen in love with it. Waking up before 6 didn’t bother me when it meant getting to hike for the next several hours in the beautiful mountainsides and little villages. Staying in hostels was more fun than I ever imagined it could be. And the best part of it all was the conversations we had and the relationships we built. We started as a group of 9, and ended as a group of nearly 30, including people from at least 6 countries. We didn’t all speak English, and yet we shared so much more. “Family dinners” quickly became my favorite part of the trip, as we cooked together, ate together, and shared life together. God did some amazing things during the trip, and we were able to share Christ’s love and hope with so many people. ((If you want in depth summaries of each day of our trip, check out my friend Rachel’s blog at rhbp.blogspot.com. She does a fantastic job of articulating our experiences!))
The funny thing about the Camino is that while it’s such a community thing, it’s also such a personal thing. Everyone walks their own Camino. Everyone is left with their own personal thoughts. And sometimes, even when you’re hiking with other people, you still are experiencing things they are not. This trip was unlike any other trip I’ve taken in that I learned SO much—about cultures, about others, about myself, and about God. I came home a different person. But I could say the biggest thing I learned, it’s that in so many ways, the Camino is just like our spiritual walk as Christians. Rachel said it best when she said, “The Camino kind of reminds you of what you’re supposed to be doing as a Christian.” And it’s so true! So throughout the trip, as I would journal about the day, I also started a list of comparisons and lessons I learned from the Camino. Here they are!
- Everyone starts at different points. Some people are hiked the entire Camino (upwards of 1000 kilometers). Our team hiked about 155 kilometers, 55 more than the minimum distance to receive a compestella. I found it hard not to judge the people who were only doing the minimum distance, since they ducked out of so many kilometers and a huge mountain. But I can’t judge! We walked a tenth of what some people do! It’s the same in our spiritual life. Some people have been a Christian since young childhood. Some accept Christ into their hearts on their death bed. For many, it is somewhere in between. But just as hiking more than the minimum distance didn’t make me any more of a pilgrim that those that did not, being a Christian for decades doesn’t make you any better than the person who’s been a Christian for a week. The real key is that you are a Christian!
- Everyone carries a different load. Some people carried HUGE packs. Some just used day packs and had their gear sent ahead to the albergue. And everyone carried different things and a different weight. In the same way, as Christians, we are all burdened by different weights and sins. Some struggle a lot, and some seem to never be burdened. Our sins and burdens take different forms and no one deals with the exact same things! Sometimes we even have the audacity to take pride in the things we carry. We think we are more spiritual for having dealt with more sins. This should never be our attitude!
- Everything is better in community. On the Camino, we walked together, cooked together, ate together, slept together, and did that day in and day out for 8 solid days. And I would have it no other way. Being in community makes it easier! For example, we would’ve not had a complete meal had some Germans not offered us their leftover salad. I would never have been able to get my water bottle back in my pack had people not been patient enough to help me every time. Similarly, being in a community of believers makes it easier. They help you when you’re tired and weak, they encourage you, they help you bear your burdens, they get your mind of things. Having someone to walk beside you can make all the difference!
- Everyone goes at their own pace, but we all end up at the same place. Some people walk quickly. Some people walk slow. But in the end, it never really mattered, because we ended up at the hostel together, and each enjoyed the journey in between. Just as the Camino was not a race, the Christian life isn’t either. Some people seem to always be learning and growing. Other people progress slowly. But as long as we are learning and growing, what does it matter? We have to learn not to compare ourselves to others, but walk the journey for ourselves!
- Some people are pilgrims, while others are simply tourists. Our team went on this trip because we were actively seeking to grow closer to God and share His love and hope with others. Other people were simply hiking to enjoy the views. In the Christian life, we have to be sure that we are pilgrims—actively pursuing Chris—remembering that our faith is not a religion, but a relationship. We must be seeking to grow closer to Him and to become more like him!
- We have a guide. On the Camino, your only direction are the arrows and the shells that point you in the right direction. And of course, the other pilgrims and the kind locals that point you on your way after wishing you a Buen Camino. Guidance takes different forms. But you learn to trust those arrows and shells, and they are what you rely on for finding your way. In the Christian life, we also have different forms of guidance. We have other Christians to help encourage us and point us in the right direction. We have the Bible—God’s holy written word—to direct us. And most importantly, we have the Holy Spirit inside of us, who acts as a guide and helps to lead and direct us.
- Every day is different. You wake up each morning not knowing what you’ll face that day. Some days we’d wake up and not realize that we’d have to hike two mountains that day. Other days, we had no idea we’d end up wandering around in the woods trying to find the detour around the industrial zone. As Christians (and even just as humans!) we have no idea what each day will bring. Some days go smoothly, and other days we are thrown a giant curveball. But God only gives us as much as we can handle, and we get through the day!
- Along the same lines, you don’t always know when you’re facing a mountain. Sometimes you just walk and climb, and look out and realize you’ve made considerable progress up a mountain. In life, sometimes we are facing things that don’t seem big at the time, but then realize that we have conquered a mountain. It’s often the little progress we make each day that makes so much difference!
- There’s really no turning back. On the Camino, it would be foolish to turn around and start walking in the other direction. You’ve already crossed that mileage off, and you are in pursuit of the next leg of the journey. We certainly looked behind us at times to see the beautiful views, but we never once started walking back the way we came. As Christians, there’s no going back either. Once we are saved, why would we return to our past life and our sinful ways? We can look behind us and see where we’ve come from, but it would be foolish to desire going back to our former patterns of life!
- There are people that try to deceive you and steer you wrong. At one point on the Camino, you have the option to go the main route past 3 miles of factories and industries, or you can take the new detour through the woods and a little mountain town. Because the new path is gaining popularity, businesses on the old path are losing customers. Thus, they have taken it upon themselves to paint over arrows, paint new arrows, take down tiles, etc., all so we pilgrims get confused and go the wrong way to give them business. It made the walk very challenging and confusing that day, as we deciphered the way and which arrows to trust. Isn’t our spiritual life the same way? Satan comes to deceive us. He puts instances and people and things in our lives to get us on the wrong path and fall into sin. We need to learn who to trust!
- Don’t look down. I would have missed SO much if I had just looked at my feet while hiking. It’s easy to do this too, to make sure you have proper footing, etc. But I would have missed out on incredible views, interactions with the locals, etc. As Christians, we can’t just look down and ignore what’s going on in the world. We can’t become so selfish that we don’t see the needs of others. We can’t be in such a bubble that we don’t know how to reach the world. We must keep our heads up and our eyes open to how God is working, and how we can impact and influence others!
- Pain is part of it. Rachel and I got to have a really great conversation with a fellow pilgrim one day, and he’s the one that pointed out this comparison to me: Every morning we’d wake up, and people would be caring for things that pained them. People would be putting cream or ointment on their feet, popping blisters, popping pain relievers, or rolling on the icy hot. We all had pain. And yet every morning, we’d start walking. We didn’t let our pain keep us from doing what we were supposed to do. I wonder if that’s true of us in the Christian life…I beg to think maybe it’s not. Each one of us has sins that we are dealing with. We each have pain and burdens. And while we should just work on taking care of them and then go about our day, learning and growing, and keeping up with what we are called to do, sometimes we let those sins and burdens take over and prohibit us from sharing the gospel, walking as a Christian, etc. It’s time to deal with those things and start living each day with intention!
- Sometimes you have to make sacrifices for the things that truly matter. Oftentimes I would match my pace to the person I was walking with. One day, Rachel and I were having a really amazing conversation about the gospel and Christianity, and we matched that pilgrim’s pace. It was only after we parted ways that we realized we had been booking it to keep up with him. And because of that, our feet were on fire, terribly sore, and new blisters popped up. And yet I wouldn’t have traded that pain for that conversation. That interaction was what mattered, not our feet. As Christians, we have to make sacrifices. We should be sacrificing our time to help people. We should be giving generously. We might have to make other sacrifices too! Maybe we are called to sell our house and travel to another country. Maybe we are simply called to give up playing golf one night to go visit someone and share the gospel. These sacrifices look different for each person, but we need to be willing to sacrifice for the things that matter!
- You never know the last time you’ll see someone. Rachel and I walked all day with a woman that we had met a day or so before, and were able to get into some good conversation with her as well. But after that day, our paths never crossed again. We could only hope that we had planted some seeds in the conversation that we were able to have. I think we Christians need to be more intentional about sharing the gospel with people. I’ve been guilty of trying to build this nice relationship first, finding the right time and opportunity, etc. But in reality, if these people are not saved, they are doomed. They are not simply unsaved, they are dead. We must be intentional about giving them the hope to be alive in Christ!
- Rough days don’t mean you can just give up. Day 6 of hiking was physically awful for me. I didn’t feel great, and on top of that, I had a headache, all kinds of new blisters, and my feet were nearly numb from the pain of walking that day. And I wanted to give up. I wanted to be done and just be in Santiago already. But if I would’ve given up then, I would’ve missed so many conversations and meaningful interactions with people. I would’ve missed the beauty of hiking the next two days. And just like we can’t let our pain inhibit us, we can’t let bad days get us down either. Each morning is a new start!
- Language has no barrier. The night before our last day of hiking was INCREDIBLE. We cooked a huge dinner for our much larger group of 7 Americans, 2 Portuguese, 5 Germans, and 11 Italians. And before we ate, Abel had each of us thank God for something in our own language. As we all head hands and prayed in 4 languages, there was something incredible powerful there. Many people were in tears, and we experienced “all the nations and tongues bowing down.” It was an incredible experience! We didn’t necessarily know what the person next to us was thanking God for, but God did!
- We should live as if the end is in sight. Our last day of hiking was almost 18 miles into Santiago, and much of it was uphill. It was a big day, but the hope of making it to Santiago spurred us on, and made us forget about the pain and the distance. It was amazing how much that hope also affected our mindset! As Christians, we should be living as if Heaven were right around the corner. We really never know when our last day is, and we need to be living in the Hope of seeing our Savior!
- The journey never ends. The day after we made it to Santiago, we took a bus back to Porto. The trek was over for us. And yet we met two other pilgrims that needed a place to stay, so we welcomed them in. For us as Christians, the journey never ends! We must persevere and keep on sharing the love and hope of Christ!
As you can tell, I learned a lot on this trip. I had a lot of amazing experiences, enriching conversations, and now have an international family. I’m excited to live out all that I’ve learned! Thank you for joining me on this journey!