In Through Painted Deserts, Donald Miller opens with the concept of “leaving.” He explains the spiritual importance for him of making a simple move from Texas to Oregon. It opened up a whole new world for him—new places, new perspectives, new people. It made him appreciate going back home so much more. It taught him to not just rely on the familiar—to adapt, grow and change.
At some point in our lives, we all need to leave home.
Recently, I heard a speaker by the name of Andrew Shearman talk on the topic. One morning he was meeting with the father of a missionary who was in Africa, feeding the hungry, healing the sick and so forth. The father was frustrated with the son who had left home on this radical adventure instead of paying off his loans and getting a “real job.”
A few minutes later, the father’s other son came in, equally upset, ranting, “I am so pissed off!”
Andrew asked why.
“Because he’s out there … doing it!” the brother said. “He’s really doing it! And I’m stuck in this office!”
Why was he so upset? “Because he never left home,” Andrew told us.
This recalled a 15-day trip I took to Mexico in January of this year. I was visiting a group of young people who, disenchanted with American church, left for a year-long journey around the world.
Imagine this—50 North Americans willingly selling their possessions and leaving the comfort of their homes in search of abundant life. That’s this group—the World Race—and they’re still out there.
Seth Barnes, founder of the program, describes it as “a commitment to a transformational discovery process. The World Race taps an ancient human compulsion to take a spiritual pilgrimage.” Now, there’s a forgotten practice. At least in western culture, we’ve lost the art of taking some time to go on a journey to figure out what life is really supposed to be about.
We’ve sold our souls to careers tracks and our family name to the burden of college debt. One day, we’re laughing with some friends at an all-night café, cramming for a final exam so we can graduate, and the next, we’re thrust into the real world where everyone is expecting something different us. If we’re not careful, it’s easy to lose our desires amidst all those expectations.
“Most young people have more questions than answers,” Barnes explained. “And what better place to find them than on a pilgrimage.”
The irony of this pilgrimage is that as they go and discover more about themselves, it becomes less about themselves and more about seeking justice and redemption in the world. They’ve rescued women from the sex industry in Thailand, saved orphans from abandonment in Swaziland and planted churches in the Andes Mountains.
Through the hospitality of strangers, they’re learning interdependence, that we all need each other and not one of us has it “all figured out just yet” (to quote Alanis Morisette).
I started making my own mini-pilgrimages about a year ago to downtown Nashville to eat lunch with the homeless. As they tell me their tales, I learn so much about myself—about brokenness and hope. I learn what I really need and how much I can actually do without. I learn that life–real life–has little to do with possessions and mostly to do with people.
I can’t fully express how important it is to leave home. This is not a concept to be debated—it is something tangible to be experienced. Only then is the importance of pilgrimage fully grasped. Once you’ve seen the sun set differently or eaten dinner at an unusual time or faced someone whose lifestyle contradicted your own, then your worldview begins to expand.
This is necessary, if we’re to be the kind of people we’re destined to be. We’re naturally inclined to think that life is mostly about us—our comfort, our stuff, our welfare. We can’t expect our flesh just to “get it”; we’re not that intelligent or that good. We need something to wake us up, jostle us out of bed and set us on a path towards home.
That’s the great irony of this—a pilgrimage, the act of leaving home, actually leads one home, though it is never where one started.
A pilgrim must be a child who can approach everything with an attitude of wonder, awe and faith. Pray for wonder, awe, desire. Ask God to take away your sophistication and cynicism. Ask God to take away the restless, anxious heart of the tourist, which always needs to find the new, the more, the curious …
We go on pilgrimage so we can go back home and know that we never need to go on pilgrimage again. Pilgrimage has achieved its purpose when we can see God in our everyday and ordinary lives. — Richard Rohr
To find out more about pilgrimage, visit www.theworldrace.org, read Don Miller’s book Through Painted Deserts or check out a modern-day fable called the Alchemist by Paulo Coehlo.