I’m looking forward to seeing Reese Witherspoon in Wild, to discover whether Cheryl Strayed’s marvelous memoir translates well to the big screen. It’s ironic that the aptly named Strayed’s journey of self-discovery on a solo trek along the Pacific Crest Trail following her divorce makes me think of marriage.
But if Marcia and I ever redo our vows, we’re thinking of wearing hiking boots to the ceremony. Walking out of the church with rugged trail footwear under the dress and dress pants is a great picture of what lies ahead.
There are all kinds of metaphors for marriage: It’s a dance. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. It’s an institution (cue joke: yes, a prison). The image that works best for us, that captures our imaginations, is marriage as a pilgrimage. A pilgrimarriage, if you will.
Pilgrims are not just wandering around, they are going somewhere. There’s a destination, a goal, and a daily recognition that they aren’t there yet. But every step, even the hard ones, is taking them closer.
We have set out for the oneness that the Bible talks about. We’re not exactly sure what that means or what it will look like, but we know it’s more than just good communication, enjoyable sex, and sharing the chores. It has something to do with reflecting the oneness shared by Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and mirrored in creating man and woman in their image.
Pilgrimage has a spiritual dimension to it, but it’s not a casual stroll with our head in the clouds. It’s very much hiking boots on the ground, with a lot of practicality: studying the map, following the signs, and finding somewhere to stay.
Having a destination in mind keeps you moving forward with anticipation on days when the scenery is great, the weather is good, and you have spring in your step. But it also keeps you going when the trail is hard and there are storms.
When you walk with someone you have to adjust. Sometimes you carry stuff for them. Sometimes they walk ahead a bit, and it’s all right to give them their space. Sometimes they seem to lag behind, and you wait patiently for them to catch up.
Mostly you walk side by side, sharing the day. Sometimes it’s easier to open your heart when you are both looking ahead than when you are sitting face to face.
Pilgrims get blisters when they are rubbed the wrong way. Their shoulders ache from the load they are carrying. Yet there’s nothing sweeter than that moment when your other half lifts the backpack away from you and you feel the lightness flow into your body. (A good massage isn’t bad, either.)
On the pilgrim trail you flow in and out of community with other walkers. Some you pass, while others overtake you. That’s all OK; it’s not a race. Some people just have a different pace. We can enjoy our time with them, learn and share, swap tips and ideas, and wish them well, hoping we will see them again at the end.
Some people approach relationships like tourists. You get there as quickly as you can, enjoy it for a short time, and then leave with some happy snaps. As pilgrims, Marcia and I are taking our time, knowing that while the destination is the ultimate goal, the journey is important too. We want to arrive t(w)ogether, as one.