Reclaiming Our Pilgrim Identity

I did not set out to live at the same address for 25 years, and, technically, I suppose my deep roots in this country hill may disqualify me from reviewing a book entitled Born to Wander: Recovering the Value of Our Pilgrim Identity.  At the outset, I actually thought I had been born to wander, having purchased my first one way plane ticket at age 17 with no intention of ever returning to Maine.

Life does have a way of handing us gifts we didn’t expect, and for me, the gift has been rootedness. For the past 25 years, the only time I’ve changed mail boxes is when the snow plow has wiped ours out and sent it flying into the ditch. However, having read Michelle Van Loon’s thoughts on the pilgrim life, I have found that there are those who “pilgrim in place.” (135) This is good news to me, because I know from experience that it is possible to choose to stay in one church for two decades because staying put is more difficult than cutting and running. I have borne witness to the gritty process of knowing and being known by people who remember most of my faults and failings, but love me anyway.

Looking for Me in All the Wrong Places

Even when staying put, the pilgrim at heart acknowledges that the Christian life is one of exile. Post-Eden, humanity has lived uprooted. The people of Israel in Old Testament times were formed by wandering and displacement. The New Testament church grew because the hot breath of persecution blew them like milkweed over the field of the world. Contrary by nature, Christians have become experts at finding ways to live opposed to this part of our history, either by leaning into safer narratives and getting stuck or by turning the pilgrimage into a self-centered pleasure jaunt.

Van Loon describes a tourist mentality as a “slogan-based approach to faith.” (39) When we fold aspects of the American Dream in with a pinch of entitlement and a dab of self-focused ambition, we have dropped our pilgrim’s staff and re-defined the following life.

The Gentle Slope, Soft Underfoot

C.S. Lewis’s Screwtape described the safest path to hell as a gradual one with a “gentle slope, soft underfoot without sudden turnings,” and perhaps this is also the best description of how easy it is to fall into the life of the “Settler” —  without even realizing it. While we crave contentment and were created with a longing to live in safety and security, the Apostle Paul describes a form of contentment alien to most of us in 2018 with our desires continually spurred on by affluence and Amazon Prime. This godly contentment says “enough”  regarding material things, while also keeping the believer in a state of discontentment that will not be assuaged on this planet.

“Godly contentment makes pilgrims out of us.”  (55)

The pilgrim life is lived in moment-by-moment obedience, praying like breathing, and assiduously avoiding the diversions offered by formulaic living. This is best done in community, but with the caveat that “formulas may work in math class, but real life in a rebel world is rarely that simple.” (152)

From the moment of new birth, the believer is drawn into the wandering life that is imprinted upon our spiritual DNA. As we follow the invitation to come and be loved by the God who promises to meet us at every point until the end of our following road, we find that the home we have always longed for is not a destination, but a Person, and can be captured by this question:  “Are we moving toward God or wandering away from him?” (26)


Many thanks to Moody Publishers for providing this book to facilitate my review, which, of course, is offered freely and with complete honesty.

I  am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. If you should decide to purchase Born to Wander: Recovering the Value of Our Pilgrim Identity simply click on the title (or the image) here or within the text, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

One more thought:  Author Michelle Van Loon has teamed up with Amanda Cleary Eastep to curate a lovely gathering place called The Perennial Gen. In a community of Christian women and men in the second half of life, they tackle issues pertinent to midlife via the wise, curious voices of thoughtful Christian writers in their second adulthood. If this sounds like you, be sure to hop on over for an encouraging read.

Thanks for reading, and may you find yourself wandering in all the best ways,

Mailbox photo by Mikaela Wiedenhoff on Unsplash

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular content delivered to your inbox. Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging communities on a regular basis. They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week. I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

Advertisements

Where Tragedy Intersects with Truth

Some stories leave a reader short of breath, muscles stiffened, dreading to turn the page because of the unavoidable outcome of the narrative arc. Katherine Clark’s story began on a routine Friday, volunteering at her son’s school. However, when she rounded the playground equipment in a schoolyard game of tag, one of the children bounded into the air from above and crashed into her head. She landed on the ground, paralyzed from the neck down, and Where I End: A Story of Tragedy, Truth, and Rebellious Hope is her memoir of that collision and of her faithful response in the re-telling of it.

Because of the Fall

What followed that day in 2009 for Katherine, her husband, and her young children was a journey of why’s in which they also learned to trust God in the dark, even when answers did not come. As they waited for healing of Katherine’s crushed and lacerated spinal cord, they found the truth of C.S. Lewis’s words:

“We are not necessarily doubting that God will do the best for us; we are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be.”

And in the case of the Clark family, God’s best was pretty painful. Although forty days of intense physical therapy and rehabilitation enabled Katherine to come home on her feet with a cane, her life was forever changed. Even today, nine years after the accident, she experiences difficulty in walking, muscle spasticity, balance issues, and continual nerve pain throughout her body.

Grieving, but not Depressed

The Clarks learned that grief is “the faithful response to loss.” (211) In excerpts from Care Page posts that were written during Katherine’s hospitalization, John Clark (Katherine’s husband) shared the family’s story of laughter and tears. Their grief over all that was lost with the accident was tempered by hope and gratitude, “the sense that God [was] not only near, but that He [was] doing something mighty and altogether lovely in [their] midst.”

The faithful response of the local church was key to this tenacity and “faithful response” within grief, and it was heartwarming to read about all the many ways in which the Body of Christ showed up for that young family:

  • A friend posted Bible verses in Katherine’s hospital room;
  • Meals were delivered to the hospital each day so Katherine and John could have a family dinnertime with their children;
  • Evening visitors were asked to wait until 6:15 to protect their family time;
  • Friends and family volunteered to stay with the children after John tucked them into bed so he could return to the hospital for some treasured time alone together.

The loving attention of God’s people and their prayers helped the Clarks to see beyond the pain and suffering to God’s redemptive purpose in it, to deal with their children’s sorrow, and to praise and grieve together.

Two Pervasive Responses to Grief

  1. If grief is seen as an unwelcome interloper, we’re quick to put a Romans 8:28 band aid on it instead of giving our attention to lament. Jesus models a right response to the death of Lazarus, for even though He was going to turn death on its head, he wept genuine tears and entered into grief with His friends.
  2. If grief becomes a way of life, indulged at every opportunity, we reject healing and become content in sadness.  Jesus’ question of the man at the pool of Bethesda (“Do you want to be healed?”) could be rhetorical, but probably not! Although it is true that we spend our days on this planet living in shadow, Katherine challenges readers to remember that our “darkness cannot overcome the light.” (127)

The transcendent truth that emerges from the story of Where I End is that we are asked to carry the weight of our story for the benefit of others who also have a holy history that requires their attention and acceptance. Although everyone will not be asked to experience quadripelegia, the miracle and the mess of each life reveals the power of God to carry us through pain and to sustain us through darkness. Even those events which could never in a million years be described as good, can be used to produce good in the hands of a God who knows us and loves us and is able to redeem our stories.


Many thanks to Moody Publishers for providing this copy of the book.

I  am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. If you should decide to purchase Where I End: A Story of Tragedy, Truth, and Rebellious Hope simply click on the title here or within the text, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular content delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

Love and Truth Made Visible

Saying “I do” at any age carries a freight of challenges and adjustments along with the joy, but a 57-year-old newlywed, married for the first time, brings a unique perspective to marriage.  Using the parable of her wedding preparations, Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth begins Adorned: Living Out the Beauty of the Gospel Together with a challenge to adorn the truth of the Gospel in our manner of living so that the beauty of God is put on display.  Since this is best accomplished in the context of relationship, Nancy turns to the truth of Titus 2: 1-10 with its wise and wonderful game plan:   the sound doctrine and skillful living that are indispensable to godliness are best learned “woman to woman, older to younger, day to day, life to life.”

Women of all ages and stages of life stand to benefit when they dive into Scriptural truth and find that belief affects behavior, for the truth is that the kindness and self-control called for in Titus 2 flow out of a changed life.  The sound doctrine Paul writes about in verse 1 is the mooring for good choices that result in the purity, composure, and sound relationships that characterize “Titus 2 Christians,” both male and female.  In the process, our ultimate purpose — to make much of God — is fulfilled and the beauty of Christ is put on display.

Older women are uniquely equipped and qualified to take younger women by the hand and explore the riches of a reverent life.  The energy and enthusiasm of younger women motivates older women to live into their calling and their experience in practical ways.

“To be reverent means living with the constant, conscious awareness that we are in the presence of an awesome, holy God.”

A Woman Under Control

Appearance, attitude, and life style work together to model the fruit of a genuine relationship with God.  A life characterized by freedom from harmful speech and from the many forms of slavery (to food, exercise, shopping, television, work, prescription meds, to name just a few possible masters) demonstrates the overcoming power of the Spirit of God.  The outcome is what Nancy refers to as a “Sophron State of Mind” (pronounced so-phrone).  Derived from the Greek words soos, meaning “sound” and phren, meaning “mind,” it comes together to convey self-control, discretion, or good sense.  Looking at life through my sophron lens, I am encouraged to ask myself probing questions:

  • The way just I talked to that person — was it sophron?
  • The way I ate (or exercised — or not?), or managed my time today — was it sophron?

Statistics that caught me by surprise here in my church-lady bubble indicate that 1 in 6 women regularly view pornography and 80% will eventually follow up virtual activity with face-to-face encounters.  In a culture that fosters the exact opposite, purity and discretion require vigilance and accountability.

A Woman Under Her Roof

It goes without saying that it is so much easier to be pleasant and accommodating with people on the fringes of our lives.  It’s those who are closest to us that receive (and endure) the fruit of our true character.  Titus 2 calls women to genuine relationships and a love for home that puts those all-important relationships on the front burner.  Together, we can train our hearts to cherish our husbands and to embrace the gift of  motherhood.  Anticipating objections to the counter-cultural notion of biblical submission, Nancy defines it by what it is NOT:

“1.  A wife’s submission is not to men in general.
2.  Submission does not mean a wife is inferior to her husband.
3.  Submission doesn’t subject a wife to a life of forced compliance.
4.  Submission doesn’t amount to slavish, groveling subservience.
5.  Submission doesn’t minimize a wife into mindlessness.
6.  Submission doesn’t mean husbands are always right.
7.  Submission never requires a wife to follow her husband into sin.
8.  Finally, a wife’s submission never gives license to her husband to abuse her.”

Studying I Peter 3 on submission with my Sunday School class, I read huge swaths of this chapter out loud to my class simply because it is so clear and grace-oriented.

Because everyone is on a learning curve, it is clear that older women will teach from what they have already learned, but we will also teach out of our failures, pointing to the days (or years) that “the locust has eaten” as proof that God is graciously in the business of redeeming failure and loss.  Younger women play a necessary role in the adorning of the Gospel, for they bring energy and fresh perspective to the table, motivating older women to live up to their knowledge — and always mindful that everyone can be an “older woman” to someone.

Titus 2 calls believers to a life of practicing a costly kindness.
It lays the groundwork for partnership together in Truth that makes the love of God visible and the truth of the Gospel believable because it is being communicated by lives that are becoming more beautiful with every year.

//

This book was provided by Moody Publishers in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

For more information about Adorned, about the Revive Our Hearts Adorned event, or to join a Facebook discussion group based on the book, visit the Adorned website.

Last year I read and reviewed Nancy’s wake up call to women, True Woman 101:  Divine Design.  You can read more here.

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.