When you are walking a pilgrimage of 70 miles, you learn so much about yourself, God and creation. One of the best teachers is pain. During my pilgrimage walking El Camino de Santiago, I was given a unique opportunity to walk and learn through my pain.
My pain began before I left Texas in the middle of my move. I did not have time to properly prepare for the journey, so I chose to wear my hiking boots to work as preparation. I work at a church that has many stairway passages. I decided it would be good to opt for the stairs every chance I could. Yet, I had not learned my lesson from pain so I pounded away toe to toe up and down the stairs. Soon walking my dog around the neighborhood resulted in excruciating pain in my left knee. I was dumbfounded at this pain. Rather than lash out at God about why this was happening to me, I asked Him the what I could learn from pain that threatened my participation in the pilgrimage I had planned for five years. Rather than panic, I prayed for healing. Because of my pain I agreed to spend the money on knee braces and walking sticks that my friend had wanted to get for the trip. I stopped taking the stairs and started walking more purposefully heel to toe and my pain disappeared. Lesson learned, all accomplished, I thought.
Obviously, there was more to be learned. The first few days were great, but the third and fourth nights my room was only one flight up, so I elected for the stairs rather than the elevator. I had forgotten that the proper step protected my knee and I ended up triggering my pain. The next day I had to walk slowly along the pilgrimage. Another pilgrim was limping and she didn’t want me to go slowly with her, but I explained that my knee hurt and walking her pace was better for me. Along the way, I tried many ways of walking and discovered that slowly and purposely placing my heal down first gave more support. Pain has its gifts. While others around me were huffing and puffing and complaining about the long uphill passages, I found them pain free and didn’t mind experiencing shorter breath and the more effort required to climb.
The lessons I learned about pain are that pain is very personal. Pilgrims who passed felt sympathetic to me as they watched me struggle to walk down hill in an awkward pace. They were full of all kinds of advice as if they knew what would make my pain less painful, but their advice only made things worse. I was surprised to discover that what I had learned from my pain was actually scientifically validated. I met a physical therapist who told me how to walk in a way that supported my knee better. It was similar to the way that I was walking only she told me to swing my hips more and we agreed that walking backwards down hills was a good way to build my muscles in order to reduce my knee pain.
It is the same way with emotional pain. Our pain is very personal. Not all widows heal in quite the same way as me. It’s important to keep this in mind when we are bearing one another’s pain. God does not heal us in the same exact way, though He does heal each one of us. We all have something very important to learn about our pain. Pain is one of the best teachers in life. I learned that I could depend on God to give me strength to carry on through my pain. I learned that going a little slower opened opportunities to take in more of God’s glory. I learned that walking and talking with others brought distraction from my pain. I learned that friends and strangers offer a lot of compassion to someone in pain. Honestly, I don’t think I would have benefited as much from the pilgrimage if I had been pain free. I’ve learned that James was right when he said:
Consider it a great joy, my brothers, whenever you experience various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. But endurance must do its complete work, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing (James 1:2-4).
I’m truly grateful for my pain. By the way, does anyone have the name of a good orthopedic doctor?