I am writing this post just a few hours before I head to catch my overnight flight to Italy. As you are reading though, I am already walking somewhere in Italy. It is the fifth day of my journey on the Via Francigena, and if everything goes according to plan, today I will walk 18 miles. Yesterday I walked 12 miles (again, assuming everything went according to plan…I’ll tell y’all later how things actually played out). Would you pray for me? I imagine by this point my feet are pretty tired and I’m probably still struggling from jet lag.
As I get ready to leave, I want to share with you some of the ways God prepared me and provided for this journey—both recently and not so recently.
In preparing to journey to Italy and embark on the Via Francigena, I prayed a lot. I asked God to guide me to just the right flights, provide space for me in the right hostels and monasteries, make everything fit into my budget. Every time God led me to just the right thing at just the right time, I was so excited! I texted my parents. I texted my best friend. I told Nick as soon as he got home.
It was fun to celebrate the way God was working and providing.
If I hadn’t prayed, I think I still would have made it to Italy, had a place to sleep, and everything would have been fine…but I would’ve missed out on something: growing deeper in my delight and relationship with God. And, I believe my flights and accommodations were better because I asked God to direct me; I don’t think I would’ve been able to do this on my own.
This prayerful preparation and deepening of my relationship with God reminded me of another experience where I relied heavily on prayer: while in India a few years ago. Below is an excerpt from a post I wrote on an old blog after I returned from that trip.
We wind through the alleys and streets of Jaipur, India – The Pink City. The alleys are narrow and full of life. Shops open. People bathe. They worship. Cows wander. Motorbikes speed past. I pray. My nose fills with dust from the artisans crafting statues and gods. My nose fills with fragrance as people burn incense and welcome the day with devotion.
People stare as we wander through their street. They stare just as I would if unfamiliar people walked through my yard or took up the space that was usually available for my morning commute. The staring can be unnerving. So, I smile at the women and children and keep moving. I trust that my friend—walking a few paces behind me—is embracing his role and watching out for me.
We have a map, but it is too small and doesn’t show our meeting place. We find ourselves in a roundabout that we think should be our final destination. Cars, rickshaws, auto-rickshaws, camels, dogs, food carts, and humans. So much sun. So many noises. So many smells. I’m out of water. My buddy shares. We don’t see the rest of the group and it’s getting close to the time to meet. We climb the stairs of a tall temple and look out over the scene for familiar faces, bags, or clothes. No luck.
As we come down the stairs, we ask someone for directions. He doesn’t speak English, but a nearby teenage boy does. He overhears us and says he is going that way too. So, we follow him. As we walk, he tells us about the shop where he works and how close it is to where we are going. We reiterate that we must meet our friends. We walk and talk.
I chat with God as we walk and am thankful for this young friend whose presence is an answer to prayer. And then I think…what if he isn’t actually a friend? What if we end up further from where we need to be? But I choose to trust and continue following.
My trust is in my God who sees me and cares for me intimately.
We find our friends; much quicker than if we were alone. We thank our new travelling companion and talk a while longer. Sometimes getting lost allows you to find others and really see them.
Throughout my time in India I was continually struck by how lost I always am. It is easier to overlook my dependence on God’s mercy and provision with GPS, when help is always a cell phone call away, when I speak the same language as everyone around me.
I feel in control and safe when I am in America in familiar places that I call home.
I forget that I exist within my Father’s sight and care—and not because of my own effort. India reminds me that there is nothing wrong with using tools, with relying on friends and neighbors, but these people and things are worth thanking God for because they are a form of mercy and provision.
I need to be reminded that I am lost because it gives me space to be grateful that I am also found. I am seen, I am known, I am loved.
No matter where I find myself, God is present. It is easy for me to let that truth slip to the back of my mind, though.
One of my prayers for this pilgrimage is that I would practice and discover a bit more what it means to pray without ceasing, to keep my attention turned toward God more often than not.
My hope is that through this pilgrimage practice God will lead me into a more sustained posture of prayer for all of life, not just the times when I am on the road and out of comfortable, familiar spaces.