"To journey and to be transformed by the journey is to be a pilgrim."
Pilgrimage has become an integrating theme of my life this year. I don't often use the word pilgrimage, actually; I've come to call it "seasons of life." Let me explain.
At a recent meeting with one of the sisters who is about 20 years younger than me, I realized that I was feeling more and more uncomfortable.
I tend to consider options from many different angles before moving. Call it cautious or wise, that's how I am … most of the time. There are important opportunities I seize with an intuitive sense that a certain path must be taken if I or we are to be true to ourselves, and it must be taken now. But on the whole, I tend to cover my bases before making decisions.
In the discussion that played out during the meeting, the topic was analyzed, figured out, and finalized as the only option that would make any sense.
I felt marginalized. Fear crept into my thinking, suggesting that I no longer had anything valid to offer, that my priorities were outdated, that I was becoming useless and losing my grip.
That afternoon when I talked with Jesus about what had happened and how I felt, I heard in my heart these words: "You need to get ready now." And, "There is a new season of your life coming." Surprisingly, I was filled with joy and excitement.
There was a warmth and an affection in the way Jesus addressed me. Whereas before I had felt uncertain, abandoned and fearful that something I was or had would be taken away from me, in this experience with the Lord I felt safe, warm and held.
In his book entitled Eternal Echoes: Celtic Reflections on our Yearning to Belong, John O'Donohue says, "Ideally, a human life should be a constant pilgrimage of discovery."
Lately, I have been thinking a lot about St. Paul's "conversion" on the road to Damascus. My pilgrimage along the seasons of life has made me see this pilgrimage experience of Paul in a new light.
In a sense, the Lord "sneaked up" on Paul, surprising this overly zealous rabbi who was persecuting the followers of Jesus, bathing him in light.
I felt joy as Jesus told me to prepare for a new season of life.
As Paul heard on the highway into Damascus that he had been persecuting Jesus himself, in the followers of the Way he had arrested and imprisoned, I wondered: what spiritual effect did those words have as they reverberated in his spirit?
I always assumed he was shocked or horrified or ashamed. Could it be, I'm wondering now, that it was joy that flooded Paul's spirit, as he was told to get up, go into Damascus, and wait to be told about the new season of his life about to begin?
Actually, his own response to the Lord betrays that this might be so. Paul didn't collapse in guilt, asking "What have I done?" but asked transparently, "Who are you, Sir?" Then when he was told to get up and go into the city, he simply did as he was told and walked into the plans the Lord had for his future.
In reality, almost every person who approached the Lord — from Peter to Thomas, from Mary Magdalene to Zacchaeus to the repentant thief — all of them were filled with the joy of life begun again, a page turned, the promise of a new season of life, when they encountered their own weakness, brought it to Jesus, and heard, "I have a plan for you."
Jesus never shamed people about what their past had been, but instead said, "I have a place in my plan that only you can fill. Get ready: a new season of your life is coming."
Saying hello to new seasons of life means waving goodbye to seasons once familiar and loved. As exciting as the new adventure may promise to be, or as sad as the past has been, any change means a face-to-face encounter with grief or fear.
It is only by walking through the liminal state of transition into the new season, that we discover how much the plans of God for our future actually fit us perfectly. So many times I've made my own plans, which God has promptly overturned with his own. And I am so grateful he did.
Most recently, a book I had proposed for publication was rejected several years ago, leading me through a long inner struggle, a personal odyssey of coming to terms with deep regrets in my own life, regrets that were much deeper than a "book deal gone sour."
The years of prayer and transparency were barren years, a desert where writing came hard and words were dry. But they have opened up to a life more grounded, and a prayer more true.
The pilgrimage over the threshold into life's new season became the framework for a new book: Reclaim Regret: How God Heals Life's Disappointments. The book is being published at a time in my life when it can be an invitation to a number of ways that people can work with me directly to find greater peace in their own life.
So if you are in a discovery phase precipitated by your journey, allow yourself to be transformed by trusting these four principles:
- Life is good when there is ongoing call for conversion.
- Jesus never looks back at what you've been, but calls you to look forward to the place he has for you in his plan, a place only you can fill.
- Moments of truth, though sometimes painful, are gifts of light.
- Step into the change that the Lord is showing you, and it will transform you.
[Kathryn James Hermes, a Daughter of St. Paul, is the author of the best-selling book Surviving Depression: A Catholic Approach as well as a number of other titles. She works with individuals online at pauline.org/heartwork, and her newsletter can be found at pauline.org/sisterkathryn.]
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