Out of the middle of the 17th century came the spiritual allegory, Pilgrim’s Progress, written by John Bunyan, an English Puritan, who at the time was imprisoned for practicing his faith. Puritans were not popular in England, remember. That is why they came to American shores. The very hardships of their life were put into colorful words in this story of life’s journey to the Celestial City. I read probably an abbreviated version of the book when I was young, and it pictured in my mind the trials and tribulations that come with trying to live a “good life” in the midst of many temptations. Years later it would come back to me when reading Scott Peck’s first sentence in his book, The Road Less Traveled. Very simply, “life is difficult.” In Bunyan’s imaging, Christian’s hazards (the “Slough of Despond”, the “Hill Difficulty”, the “Doubting Castle”) and his temptations (“Vanity Fair” and the pleasantness of “By-Path Meadow”) provided images I could relate to as a young boy. You don’t need to be very old before you discover that it is not easy to live up to what might be expected of you. The story Cheryl Strayed tells about her life journey in her book, “Wild”, brought back that 17th century allegory. In the mess her life has been in, she chooses to physically endure the punishment of a walk up the Pacific Coastal Trail as a way to bring some kind of healing and hope to her life. As she writes about the experience, “(the journey) would both make me into the woman I could become and turn me back into the girl I’d once been.” The movie captured the scenes of her travail. In so much of the trek she was alone, and you could feel the struggles of what it is like to go through so much of what is painful and difficult by yourself. And how welcome to find companions along the way. Those who also personally know the joys and struggles of the adventure. They become a breath of fresh air that kept her going. Yet, there are moments with people that scare you, just as there are challenges along the trail that frighten you. How many times did she consider quitting? Yet she made it! She endured. She found her life again, and it was worth the pain. That is a God given gift of grace. Suffering is part of life. Often a very important part of life. There are lessons we learn about God and about ourselves that we wouldn’t trade for whatever seductive offer we are given. In our loneliness, the spirit of God is a companion. In the midst of difficulty, we have grace to cope. When we are tempted to give up or give in, there is the beckoning voice of One who said, “Come on, take up your cross, and follow me.” We will make it.
Rev. Robert McQuilkin, Author