Devotional Day 8
Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him. No one is to say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and sin, when it has run its course, brings forth death.James 1: 12-15
With no grocery store to visit the night before, we didn’t have any breakfast makings, so we ate at the restaurant downstairs (with their generous portions) before hitting the road. Soon after getting back on the Way, we ran into an Israeli couple we had met a day or two earlier. Standing at an intersection, they looked uncertain of which way to go. I immediately saw the yellow painted arrow for one road, and the yellow X on the other, which we pointed out for them. While they were not blatant or bright, the directions seemed pretty clear to me.
Dean later made a comment that seeing the direction came more naturally for me than for some. At another point we made a turn and he asked if we knew it was the right way; I pointed to the arrow I had seen when approaching the turn. It made me think about the need not only for direction, but also the value of paying attention and looking in the right places.
A while later we came across a young woman from Hungary, and got into conversation as we walked together. For her, traveling solo had been a big step, frightening at first. But after experiencing interactions with helpful people and her fears not being manifested, she felt more confident and free. She was also interested in the spiritual side of El Camino, sharing that her boyfriend was Catholic, and she wanted to experience the faith more. It was disappointing when finding many churches along the way locked outside of Mass, saying she had hoped to go in and pray. I shared that one of the things I really liked about El Camino was the time I had to pray along the way, knowing God to be present at all times, in all places. We had some more thoughtful conversations about God, life, etc.
Eventually we came to a coffee shop and decided it was time for a break. I sat down outside, and talked with the pilgrim at the table next to me. She was a woman from Australia who had done some incredible work implementing a shortened version of Shine (a program I’ve seen used in Northern Iraq) in Cambodia. This was done despite the lack of support from her husband (a non-Christian) or her church. She noted feeling guilty for not being able to continue at this time because of problems at home.
Soon I heard about years of struggle in the courts, in her family, and in her church. Layers of complexity in relationships and institutions contributed a mix of pain, anger, disillusionment, and even guilt. She noted toward the end that she was still a Christian, still seeing “God moments” along the way. While still able to mentally compartmentalize thoughts and appreciate the surroundings during the walk, it was harder when alone at night. “This is one of those God moments,” she said. All I gave was an open ear.
I thought about the many trials faced by all those who walked this road and re-read the words of James.
“perseveres under trial…”
I was repeating these words to myself while going up a steep incline. There were sections where trees provide some shade, but others where the sun was beating straight down on us. It was close to midday on the warmest day we’d had yet. There was a fairly long stretch with no place to fill our water bottles, and I was feeling hot and tired. But it made a difference to know we had a destination. We’d heard today’s stretch had a long, fairly steep incline, so in some ways we were mentally prepared, but it wasn’t clear how long, how much would be rocky, or how far between sources of water. We only knew that the goal was 19km away, and the hope that there would be space in the albergue at our destination.
While the day’s “trials” are minuscule compared to struggles faced throughout our lives, there seem to be some parallels. One is knowing that there is a destination, something to look forward to and anticipate. (In the middle of the day’s walk, when thinking of the reward God promised, I mentioned to Dean that it seemed like a good day to treat ourselves to a piece of dark chocolate to reward perseverance up the mountain.)
Along the way our capacity was being tested, and I noticed we were going at a faster pace than Day 1, less tired, muscles less sore than Day 2 or 3. A few verses earlier, James mentioned that indeed the trials produce perseverance. Earlier painful muscles had prepared us for this mountain.
Just as the day’s challenge was minute compared to most life events, so the promise of a bed, a meal, and a piece of dark chocolate is minuscule compared to the crown of life God has promised. Looking at what lies in store for eternity makes our (relatively) short trials of this lifetime more manageable, more bearable.
It’s not clear how long this rocky section will last, but we know there is an end point and a reward beyond our comprehension in value. James calls it “the crown of life,” and I think one can only begin to imagine what an existence of true, full, blemish-free life will be like. We will be directly experiencing the presence of the Giver of Life, and absence of all sin and suffering! This life holds joy in its fullness, peace in perfection. It is promised to all who love God, for the love of God sustains us, helps us persevere.
Sustained by the Water of Life
Perhaps that love is like the water that we carried with us and refilled along the way. There was one point where no source of water had been present for quite a while, and we’d been going up a rocky terrain. Then, ahead of us, we saw a pipe sticking out of the side of the mountain, water gushing out in the shade of a tree. Two women sat by the stream and testified that it was drinkable. Indeed, it was clean and cold, extremely refreshing both to drink and splash on my sweaty face.
A relatively short break enjoying the water renewed my energy, and of course I filled my bottle to take it with me. Without water, we couldn’t make it over the mountain. Without love from and for God, we can’t face life’s struggles with hope and steadfastness. Sometimes we might get to those places where we feel spiritually parched, where God seems distant. In those moments the highest priority may be to seek the love of God before being spiritually dehydrated and on the verge of giving up. God promises that when we seek Him, we will find Him. Take heart: the gushing Water of Life might be just around the corner!
Arriving in Ponte de Lima
The rest of the walk seemed to go fairly quickly, and we arrived at the albergue 15 minutes before they opened the doors at 3pm. A row of shoes and boots were lined up against the sunny wall, while the pilgrims sat in the shade across the way.
Everyone was cordial when the doors opened, and a large group of guys from Porto let us go first (though we all ended up in the same dorm room).
We went through our typical daily routine of showering (after I waited my turn for the one shower room for the ladies), laundry, quiet time to read, write, and pray, then seeking food. It ended up being a progressive dinner. Only a small taqueria was open at first, but they were on the verge of closing and so offered very few items. We appreciated their prices more when compared to the cheese plate we ordered at a waterfront restaurant, which unfortunately overcharged us. The meal ended with watermelon shared back at the albergue, next to a note expressing appreciation to all for the support for Ukraine.
After an interesting group conversation with a diverse group, hearing about the many locations represented, I went to bed around 10pm, but had trouble falling asleep. I was semi-aware that Dean didn’t come in until midnight, engaged in another conversation. The lumpy, plastic-covered pillows were quite uncomfortable, perhaps helpful in preventing bed bugs, but not conducive to the best of sleep. These minor “trials” were simply part of our journey. It was good to know they were temporary.
Thank You, Lord, for the good that comes with trials, being stretched and strengthened. On those days when life seems to be a steep mountain, daunting, tiring, even overwhelming, help me to focus on You. Thank You for the refreshing love You offer in the here and now, and the hope for eternal glory.
- Think of the relational, physical, emotional, and spiritual “mountains” you’ve had to climb. What motivated you to keep moving forward?
- How can having a known destination and promised reward impact your view of the present trial?
- Allow time to be in God’s Presence, receiving His love like a refreshing drink of water to a parched throat.
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