#167 The Pilgrim’s Path

Photo by Conor McWay 

“We have no idea where we are, we haven’t seen any other people for over an hour, and it feels like we’ve been wandering aimlessly through suburban Spain—but now there are factories everywhere…where are we going?!”

I was standing in the middle of a Spanish industrial park outside the city of Burgos, wearing a 20-pound backpack filled with all the belongings I would need to walk 500 miles across Northern Spain. My feet hurt, I felt lost, and I was annoyed. So, I very maturely articulated my inquiry to my husband, Conor, with complete calm—which meant I was whining and one step away from stomping my feet. How did I get here?

Conor and I had a wonderful first year of marriage; we made friends, and somehow, all of my siblings ended up moving back to the area where we grew up. It was a truly great year, but it was becoming more and more apparent that Conor was not meant to be in law school. He would often become whom I (lovingly and affectionately) called “self-deprecating Conor.” After Conor’s first year and summer of law school it was clear that he was not going to continue.

We had lost our plan before I even realized that it was one. Without realizing it, I had created the next three years (and beyond) in my mind: I would teach as long as Conor was in law school, when he graduated we would move to wherever he was offered a job, we would live in a fabulous city, he would be a lawyer, money wouldn’t be a problem, I could use our expendable income to fund my dream restaurant, all my siblings would move to live close to us, and we’d have beautiful and magical babies who wouldn’t cry and would never need their diapers changed…you get the gist.

Without law school, I didn’t know what our future would bring, how long I would have to teach, what job Conor would find, what Conor would be passionate about if not law, how we would ever afford a house—let alone my dream restaurant—and when we would have our non-magical, probably super loud, screamy children. If it wasn’t my idea of the perfect future, it would be horrible.

It was during this F-5-level worry spiral, among other moments during our first two years of marriage, that showed me two very big flaws in my thinking. One, I was thinking as an I, not a we. And two, I was thinking of my plan, instead of being open to God’s greater plan. This spiral of doubt was caused by my own insecurity, my lack of faith, and my singular thinking.

One day, while talking about how lost we both felt, my sister-in-law suggested that we go on the Camino de Santiago and it sounded so…right. It’s not that we hadn’t talked about going on the pilgrimage before, but this time it felt like a way to be found. Conor and I started talking and dreaming about going to Spain to do the Camino, then staying abroad for a while. We could live and work with family, friends, or acquaintances and spend some time adventuring, eating great food, and discerning what we are called to do next. We came to the realization that we want to be totally open to God’s call and follow where He is leading us next. We would take the year to listen, surrender, and discern.

Intellectually, it seemed crazy, but it just felt right. We quit our jobs, said goodbye to family and friends, and left on a one-way ticket to begin our year of pilgrimage and discernment. As reluctant as I was to give up the reigns, I knew life would be so much better if I stopped trying to control it.

Well, when I say I “knew,” I mean I wanted to know and I prayed for trust—but I couldn’t seem to stop trying to control. Though the beginning of our Camino was a prayerful, beautiful, and moving time, I still slipped into old habits. From memorizing the mileage to planning my next coffee stop, I was struggling to let go and follow the yellow arrows and shells that indicated the way. Less than two weeks into the Camino, I was totally doubting why we even came to Spain, let alone that we would find our way on the path into town. After trying to solve it myself, studying the map, and searching for an arrow, I shouted for a sign. Finally, I got a sign in the form of a neon bike vest and a shiny silver helmet.

“¡Buen Camino, peregrinos! ¿Estån buscando el camino?” A biker appeared, as if out of nowhere. He was simply asking if we were looking for the way, but his words touched so much deeper. I needed a sign that we were on the right track. I needed to let go and admit that I was lost. But not just lost outside this city in Spain, I had lost my faith in God’s merciful plan. I was desperately seeking the way, without asking for help. I needed to trust that the way had been prepared for me. Once I let myself be vulnerable, finding our way back to the pilgrim’s path was as simple as two turns and a bright yellow arrow. Suddenly, we were surrounded by backpacks, hiking boots, and scallop shells (all familiar Camino accessories). We had found our way, by embracing how lost we were. Each day following, instead of being worried, I was comforted with the knowledge that I am not in control. Conor and I are, and will continue to be, well taken care of.

Since the end of our Camino and our year abroad, Conor and I have continued to live “planless” as we call it, though that name is somewhat misleading. We live trusting in a much greater plan. We don’t need to know tomorrow’s walk, we just need to trust and listen during the walk today.

The Camino taught me many lessons. Well, to be honest, that Camino continues to teach me many lessons. An adage adopted by many pilgrims is “As in the Camino, so in life.” Through the Camino, I learned that sacrifice and humility are crucial to partnership and love. I not only had to sacrifice my comfort for Conor on more than one occasion, I also had to humbly admit when I needed help. This is a lesson we live constantly in our marriage. I learned that with God, and only with God, I truly have an unbelievable strength. With His help, I can achieve wonderful things. And I learned the beauty, peace, and joy that come with surrender. It is a gift to have total faith that God’s plan is better, more complete, and so filled with love. God has taken care of the big stuff and He continues to take care of the details. I just need to surrender and know He has prepared the way. 

A Million God Stories is a Christ-centered ministry which offers a platform for Christians from all streams of Christian faith to give praise for how God has worked in their lives. Christ heals in infinitely creative ways and we acknowledge that His way of helping may differ from person to person.

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