What I learned from traveling to the Holy Land

Recently, I was blessed to travel with my church in Chicago to the Holy Land. We traveled to Bethlehem, Galilee and Jerusalem, and walked in the footsteps of Bible accounts from the Old Testament tombs to the glorious passion and resurrection of Christ. In each place, Jesus met me right where I was and helped me see some of the daily crosses of life in a new light.

Months before the trip, my heart felt restless. Not from travel anxiety (yet), but from the sense that what I’m doing in my life was not enough. Sometimes I felt like I was being left behind, as is common in your 20s and 30s, when you foolishly convince yourself that everyone seems to have it more together than you. There were some lonely moments, and I struggled with not knowing what the next chapter of my life would hold.

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During Lent, I started to feel strangely drawn to spending more time alone in silence, even though I felt like it wasn’t really something I wanted to do. But it was something I needed to do. My heart needed to detach from the many thoughts, opinions, worries, expectations and disappointments I had let weigh me down. Through prayer, I realized it was Jesus calling me to attach myself to him and be his friend. A true friend — the one you go to when something exciting happens and you can’t wait to tell them, the one who you go to when you just want to be yourself. Too often, I’ve treated Jesus like someone to turn to when I have nothing else to do or feel lonely, which is no way to treat a friend.

Holy Land
Bethlehem- Church of the Nativity

A call to detachment

Our first major stop of the trip was Jesus’ birthplace in Bethlehem. In the Church of the Nativity, the cave where Mary laid baby Jesus in the manger is still there to this day, and you can touch the very spot where he was born.

While we were waiting in line to touch the blessed spot, we prayed the Third Joyful Mystery of the Rosary, the Nativity. The fruit of this mystery just so happens to be detachment. When I thought about how, 2,000 years ago, “there was no room at the inn,” it dawned on me that two millennia later, I get to decide if I’m going to make room for Jesus, too. Now I can see how Jesus was helping me detach from everything else in my life to make room in my heart for him. While I still don’t have many of the answers I was searching for before the trip, those restless feelings can’t fill up my heart the same way they used to.

Holy Land
Spot where Jesus was born

The desire to skip ahead

It’s a beautiful thing to build toward the life God is calling you to. But it is becoming more difficult to do so while embracing the little things in our present and not getting swept away in anxiety about our future. When I talk with friends about this, it feels like no matter what stage in life we are in, we are tempted to skip ahead to the next thing. We look for a new job, and once we have it, we immediately start working for a promotion. We look for a loving, lifelong relationship, and when we find it, we get overwhelmed by timelines, wedding planning and housing markets. We look for a good group of friends and then constantly struggle with the fear of missing out. In the year before my trip, my career wasn’t what I thought it would be, a relationship wasn’t happening like I’d hoped, and some days everything just felt too ordinary to be worth mentioning. I wanted to skip ahead but felt like there was nowhere to go.

Nazareth – Church of the Annunciation

When we walked around Nazareth in the early evening, there was a pure, sweet stillness in the air. As we entered the Church of the Annunciation where part of the home of the Holy Family remains, I was struck by the reality that when Jesus was my age, he was living here with his parents. He still had four years until his ministry would begin and seven until he would enter into his passion. The difference between us and Jesus is that he knew what was next for him in life. But he didn’t neglect the sweetness of the ordinary. Even though he knew everything that would happen to him, Jesus still waited until the Father called him to his next chapter and trusted in his timing. He didn’t skip right to the miracles or the teaching or the healing. Jesus spent 30 years living ordinary moments in an ordinary place with extraordinary love.

It’s easy to want to have our lives defined only by extraordinary chapters. This is not necessarily a bad thing, especially when what we are chasing is from God, but it makes it tempting to neglect the little moments and just skip ahead to the “good stuff.” It would be a shame if we let those moments pass us by without cherishing their worth. Ordinary moments lived like the ones in Nazareth will help us appreciate that they aren’t so ordinary after all.

Holy Land
Garden of Gethsemane

Entering Jerusalem at every Mass

Our final stop was Jerusalem. Walking around the Holy City was nothing short of surreal. You can touch the rock Jesus sweat blood on in the Garden of Gethsemane. You can stand in the pit under Caiphas’ house that Jesus was imprisoned overnight before his passion. You can carry a wooden cross through the Via Dolorosa on a busy market street. You can walk into the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and see the hill of Calvary towering above you like an altar 50 feet high.

Holy Land
Church of All Nations- in Garden, rock where Jesus wept

And the most amazing part of it all — you can go to Jerusalem anytime you’d like.

Everyone has asked me what it was like to be in the Holy Land, but the reality is that I go back all the time. Every time you participate in the Mass, you are standing in Jerusalem. You are right on Calvary, right in front of the cross with Mary and John where Jesus laid down everything because he loves you. It is a life changing experience to travel thousands of miles to walk the footsteps of Christ. But we would do our Catholic faith a disservice if we came back without recognizing how badly Jesus wants to be with us in the Eucharist. He is much closer than we think.

Holy Land
Via Dolorosa

If your story feels like mine, or if in some way you can relate to feelings of restlessness, uncertainty and loneliness, you are not alone. In some ways, your heart may feel broken, worn out or just plain confused. But despite this, it is still deeply beautiful. To me, your heart sounds just like the city of Jerusalem.

Even after this amazing pilgrimage, I still have my days when worrying gets the best of me, surrender feels impossible, and being a good follower of Christ feels downright out of reach. But I can find Jesus in the tabernacle the same way I found him in the Holy Sepulcher.

He is waiting for you there, too.

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