When I think pilgrimage, I think holy quest. I think of a journey back to the roots of your faith, back to understanding, back somewhere. I think of grand expeditions filled with obstacles, adventure and extreme enlightenment. I picture Jason Schwartzman and Adrien Brody with Owen Wilson on a train in India. I think of intense effort.
I’ve never actually been on such a pilgrimage. I’ve never had a place to get back to. At least not geographically. I did lose my heart one time, and that in fact was a place I desperately needed to return to. In a lot of ways, my journey was forced but it was the best summer of my life.
It feels like I should write ‘how-to lose your heart’ first, but lets assume that none of us want to learn that. Here is how to get it back.
Initiate the expedition
I was going through a break-up and taking it hard. I cried and prayed so much. It was nuts. I wanted her back and couldn’t see any reason we should be apart. She said I was too stiff and always trying to be a super-christian. I blamed her for giving up and thought she was rude for criticizing my faith.
About a month in, this profound thought hit me. ‘What if it was you, Jake?’ What if it was me? What if I acted like a stiff and was ‘holier than thou’? Hmm. That actually makes more sense. It was me. Not entirely, but definitely 75% of it could have been avoided. Why did I act out of character? When did I become this weirdo? It was in my heart. I gave up my heart, my true-self. That’s how I got here. I want to go back.
Get a map / The 1st stop
I would pray for guidance every day. More like every hour. I had caught a glimpse of the old me and wanted a map back to him. I also began some counseling sessions. This is like having a GPS on your journey. You always have your own sense of direction, but being able to bounce it off a satellite a couple times a month is incredible. He would help me unpack thoughts and re-pack them. It makes for less baggage and the trip becomes a little easier.
First stop on the map was looking at everything I had been avoiding. The first thing I noticed was that I was so scared of being wrong. I put up a righteous front. This is the first sign of the false Jake. Solution: stop with immediate opinion-forming. It’s not necessary. Take in the information and spin it around a bit. This way you’re thinking more freely, not so rigid.
2nd stop: reconciliation with friends
I sat down with my two closest friends. I asked them tough questions. ‘Am I unapproachable? Am I tough to be around?’ You never really want to hear those answers, but its so necessary. I found out that I was awful to hang out with. Every time I would hang out with people, every time we got together, it was a bunch of, ‘You shouldn’t do that…. You should do more of this…. Well, my pastor says….’ It was a legalistic bonanza. This is the polar opposite of who I am. I’ve always been the dude to talk to about whatever was on your mind. I’ve always been inviting.
3rd stop: reconciliation with yourself
I started praying for fifteen minutes at a time, a huge boost from the usual two to three. I actually let God work with me and started listening to my heart. Tough questions started coming up and I would not run. He and I were in this together. He would show me some harsh truths and not condemn me but lift me over them.
Then I asked Jesus to guide me through the dirty, cluttered basement that is my heart. We would go through the crap together and he would guide me to the areas that needed attention sooner. This became the daily routine. More and more blemishes rose to the surface. I feel comfortable sharing them:
- I blindly chased righteousness.
- I never felt like a man, just a big kid all the time.
- I believed two lies:
- My parents relationship is my responsibility.
- I have nothing to offer a woman.
I started seeing where these things came from and decided it wasn’t my fault. I have made a lot of mistakes because of these things, and those I will take responsibility for. But the damage done was more of a character assassination than me being reckless. I tossed the lies and informed the enemy that I know what’s up now. I forgave my self.
4th stop: get a new map of your heart and go there… forever
I was on the right path now. It took me a couple months and the travel was exhausting. But as I stayed on the right path more and more, I started to see the old me, the true-self, come alive again. I could see the final destination: my passions. They were buried deep but couldn’t be killed and that gave me so much confidence. ‘Live from your passions’ was one of those phrases I would hear and think, ‘Yeah right. Who has time for that?’ Now I get it. Your passions are your heart’s desire. Your heart is wired by God. He gave you those, so use them. I found my heart. Pilgrimage: success!
Back to your everyday life
Use what you learn on the pilgrimage. It’s going to be hard but you will have some memories engraved to remind you. I actually kept a bit of a journal. It wasn’t typical, but basically just a line or two each day about what I learned. I have looked at that a dozen times since my journey. It gets me right back on the path. Don’t forget to live from your new heart everyday. You’d be surprised who comes back around.
Epilogue Jake ended up living life like he was supposed to and, about 3 months later, his ex-girlfriend initiated communication. She was able to see the changes made and wanted to be close again. A month of friendship rekindled their story and the two were just married in September.
Footnote A Lot of this journey was fueled by Wild at Heart by John Eldridge.
Photo: Two photos, both by Suzie Nolan, merged into one by Nate Green