There is a moment that sometimes occurs in the morning: I lie in bed, not wanting to get up and start walking. I would rather do anything than walk another day.
When I get out of bed, this feeling is gone. It does not last, and it won’t return until the next morning.
There is another moment that occurs occasionally throughout the day, depending on the difficulty of the day’s walk, the weather, the amount of sleep I’ve had. I round a corner and see a long hill stretching up before me. Or I wipe away the sweat that is yet again trickling into my eyes. Or I pull out my map from my pocket and see that I still have ten kilometres to walk before finding a place to stay for the night, but I’m exhausted and want to stop NOW. God, I think, why am I here? Why did you call me to this journey? What am I supposed to be learning?
The thing is, I do know why I’m here. At least one reason. And I’ve known since day 2.
I don’t like to do hard things.
Somewhere along the way in life, my prayers became requests for God to take every hardship out of my life. My yoke is easy, and my burden is light, Jesus says. But he also says unless a seed falls to the ground and dies, it does not produce new life. At some point in time my theology has become less I am crucified with Christ and more being a Christian should mean an easy life.
I don’t think I would ever have put that into words if you had asked me what following Jesus is all about. But my mindset was revealed through my circumstances. Every hill I climbed was a challenge to me. Every step I took some days. Every lonely moment.
I wrote before leaving for Spain that a long walk is like a physical diagnostic, revealing what bad habits I’ve picked up in my gait and posture but don’t notice over the short term. I said that I hoped that my pilgrimage would be a spiritual diagnostic, revealing what spiritual bad habits I had picked up.
I’ve written a little bit about how each new hill, each new turn in the road, each new challenge has become an opportunity to check my attitude and learn. I wish I could say that the road was easy and that I was a star student. There is a certain irony in the fact that I began writing this reflection one morning at breakfast and all the words about doing hard things flowed out easily. Then I had a long hard day of walking in terrible heat, and pretty much lost perspective on why I’m here and what I’m learning. (Melodramatically posting on Facebook that you’re ready to die is not exactly a sign of personal growth!)
I have stopped looking forward to “easy days”, as I know each day will hold some kind of challenge. And with each hill, each stony path, each time I want to sit down and quit for the day, I pray Jesus, teach me to do hard things.
The last week of walking has been quite flat. Yesterday we started climbing hills again. As we crested one hill, we could see mountains soaring skyward ahead of us. And when I checked my attitude to see if there was any discouragement, any resentment, I am happy to say that my main reaction was Mountains? Meh. I’ve done them before and I can do them again. Jesus, help me learn to do hard things.
I consider it no accident that the book I bought on my ereader just before coming, the book I have been reading in some of my relaxation time, was NT Wright’s After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters. I read about and reflected on how the life of Christian character and virtue is formed by the myriad small decisions we make in the “easy” parts of our lives. And then when the moments come where we are under pressure, we do the right thing with ease because it’s not a decision that is being made in that moment, it’s a decision that has been made and rehearsed again and again in those easier moments. This ties in to what I have been learning personally that is hard to express clearly in words.
Some thinking and reflecting still remains on this topic. What are the hard things in my walk with Jesus that I have been avoiding but need to face?
Who have I not forgiven that needs to be forgiven?
Who have I hurt, and need to ask for forgiveness?
What specific habits of virtue do I begin to add to my life to grow to be more like Jesus?
How do I learn more to die to self each day, each moment?
The best part, of course, is that I don’t do this on my own or under my own strength. I do it only through Christ, who strengthens me. In every hard moment along the Camino, from physical pain, exhaustion, hunger, to homesickness, loneliness, fear, my Good Shepherd always walks with me.
Tomorrow I will cross the highest point of altitude along the Camino. At the iron cross I will place a stone I have carried with me along my whole journey. I will lay my burdens at the foot of the cross, giving up again my desire to do things the easy way and asking Jesus to teach me to do hard things.