Camino Update Day 26: 720 kilometers down, 80 to go. Three...more...days! Don’t call me a sap, but I actually get teary-eyed when I think about seeing Santiago’s skyline for the first time this coming Sunday morning.
Don’t get me wrong. When I make it to Santiago at the completion of my walk across Spain on the Camino, I don’t want to turn right around and do it again. I may never do it again. I feel like I’ve walked enough for a lifetime, let alone a month. I’m spent. I’m done. And I’m ready to come home.
But I still might cry like a baby when I walk into Santiago. I’m actually getting a little moist in the eyes as I write this. The reason I’m pretty sure the tears will flow is that...the journey—the beautiful, enriching, painful, frustrating, tiring, yet transforming, journey—will be over.
And I believe I will be a better person for it. The pain. The challenge of figuring out where to sleep every night. Unisex bathrooms and showers and dormitory sleeping quarters. (Don’t worry, everyone—well, almost everyone—was very modest and respectful.)
And then there are the newly-formed friendships. It’s hard not to get close to people when you’re with them on the walk and at the hostels. Great conversations about faith, life, and the problems with the world (and America specifically, as many of my European friends are quick to point out). I planted seeds of the hope that comes through the Gospel of Jesus, and I pray others will come along and water them.
Without sounding overly dramatic, my new friends and I have a shared experience of a pilgrimage that can’t fully be appreciated unless you’ve made the journey.
But that’s the nature of life. Too often we want the blessing, but we don’t want to go through what it takes to get there. Now that I’m about 80 kilometers from Santiago, I’m running into more and more “pilgrims” who took a bus to Sarria, Spain and began their walk from there. When pilgrims complete the Camino, they receive a Compostela, a certificate of completion. The minimum requirement to receive the coveted document is to walk the last 100 (or bike the last 200) kilometers to Santiago. (I didn’t see anything mentioned about riding a motorcycle.)
When I see someone strolling along who hasn’t walked 700 kilometers so far, I don’t get too bent out of shape that they can receive the same Compostela as those of us who’ve walked the whole thing. After all, I remember Jesus’ parable about the workers who came on the job late and got the same pay as those who started early in the morning (Matthew 20:1-16). Such is the beauty of God’s grace, and we should be grateful. I don’t know the stories of those coming late to the party. I don’t know their pain, health issues, or life circumstances.
My friends, though, think otherwise. In grumbling, guttural words, they call these latecomers, “Cheaters.” Maybe, maybe not.
But it did get me to think about how we often want the reward without the pain. In “The Last Arrow,” Erwin McManus writes, “Frankly, over the years, many young men have come and asked me how they can have my life, but what quickly becomes clear is that they want the life without the path. They want my life without the wounds; they want my life without my scars. In fact, they don’t actually want my life; they want the rewards” (70).
Don’t we want heaven? Then we have to go through the pain of earth—not to “earn our stripes,” but simply because one comes before the other. And you can never reverse the order.
I hope that in three days I will receive my Compostela, not because I’m a great athlete, or better than anybody else, or because I started in St. Jean and not half-way through Spain. I hope to receive the Compostela simply because I walked, and I didn’t...give...up.
Not a bad picture for life, if you think about it. Keep walking in Jesus, one foot in front of the other, faithfully following Him in His grace, in the strength of His Spirit, with other pilgrims. And one day you’ll receive the greatest Compostela ever when you hear those words, “Well done, good and faithful servant... Enter into the joy of your Master” (Matthew 25:21).
And I’d say that should definitely bring some tears to anyone’s eyes. It does to mine.