All of us have a little wanderlust. Born to Wander by Michelle Van Loon

Reclaiming Our Pilgrim Identity

I did not set out to live at the same address for 25 years, and, technically, I suppose my deep roots in this country hill may disqualify me from reviewing a book entitled Born to Wander: Recovering the Value of Our Pilgrim Identity.  At the outset, I actually thought I had been born to wander, having purchased my first one way plane ticket at age 17 with no intention of ever returning to Maine.

Life does have a way of handing us gifts we didn’t expect, and for me, the gift has been rootedness. For the past 25 years, the only time I’ve changed mail boxes is when the snow plow has wiped ours out and sent it flying into the ditch. However, having read Michelle Van Loon’s thoughts on the pilgrim life, I have found that there are those who “pilgrim in place.” (135) This is good news to me, because I know from experience that it is possible to choose to stay in one church for two decades because staying put is more difficult than cutting and running. I have borne witness to the gritty process of knowing and being known by people who remember most of my faults and failings, but love me anyway.

Looking for Me in All the Wrong Places

Even when staying put, the pilgrim at heart acknowledges that the Christian life is one of exile. Post-Eden, humanity has lived uprooted. The people of Israel in Old Testament times were formed by wandering and displacement. The New Testament church grew because the hot breath of persecution blew them like milkweed over the field of the world. Contrary by nature, Christians have become experts at finding ways to live opposed to this part of our history, either by leaning into safer narratives and getting stuck or by turning the pilgrimage into a self-centered pleasure jaunt.

Van Loon describes a tourist mentality as a “slogan-based approach to faith.” (39) When we fold aspects of the American Dream in with a pinch of entitlement and a dab of self-focused ambition, we have dropped our pilgrim’s staff and re-defined the following life.

The Gentle Slope, Soft Underfoot

C.S. Lewis’s Screwtape described the safest path to hell as a gradual one with a “gentle slope, soft underfoot without sudden turnings,” and perhaps this is also the best description of how easy it is to fall into the life of the “Settler” —  without even realizing it. While we crave contentment and were created with a longing to live in safety and security, the Apostle Paul describes a form of contentment alien to most of us in 2018 with our desires continually spurred on by affluence and Amazon Prime. This godly contentment says “enough”  regarding material things, while also keeping the believer in a state of discontentment that will not be assuaged on this planet.

“Godly contentment makes pilgrims out of us.”  (55)

The pilgrim life is lived in moment-by-moment obedience, praying like breathing, and assiduously avoiding the diversions offered by formulaic living. This is best done in community, but with the caveat that “formulas may work in math class, but real life in a rebel world is rarely that simple.” (152)

From the moment of new birth, the believer is drawn into the wandering life that is imprinted upon our spiritual DNA. As we follow the invitation to come and be loved by the God who promises to meet us at every point until the end of our following road, we find that the home we have always longed for is not a destination, but a Person, and can be captured by this question:  “Are we moving toward God or wandering away from him?” (26)

Many thanks to Moody Publishers for providing this book to facilitate my review, which, of course, is offered freely and with complete honesty.

I  am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to If you should decide to purchase Born to Wander: Recovering the Value of Our Pilgrim Identity simply click on the title (or the image) here or within the text, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

One more thought:  Author Michelle Van Loon has teamed up with Amanda Cleary Eastep to curate a lovely gathering place called The Perennial Gen. In a community of Christian women and men in the second half of life, they tackle issues pertinent to midlife via the wise, curious voices of thoughtful Christian writers in their second adulthood. If this sounds like you, be sure to hop on over for an encouraging read.

Thanks for reading, and may you find yourself wandering in all the best ways,

Mailbox photo by Mikaela Wiedenhoff on Unsplash

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40 thoughts on “Reclaiming Our Pilgrim Identity”

  1. As you and I have discussed, my favorite book is “Pilgrim at Tinker Creek” by Annie Dillard. I have been thinking about what it means to be a pilgrim for a long time, but have never seen it described as well as you do here. One of my favorite quotes is by Meister Eckhart “God is at home; we are in the far country”, which speaks to the concept of being a pilgrim.

    I had never considered the difference between being a pilgrim and a tourist before. I think that too often, I am on a “self-centered pleasure jaunt”, and must remind myself to refocus. Thank you for the reminder!


    1. If you are nourished by thinking about our pilgrim identity, you would love Van Loon’s book. And you are the one who introduced me to that Eckhart quote.
      Honestly, it’s such a treat to have these discussions in our blogs’ comment sections!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I agree! I love the comments at least as much as writing the blog articles. Another book to add to my list! I have been falling behind. Another blogger just introduced me to Anne LaMott, and I have been reading her for the first time.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi, Michele! Such a pleasure to visit you today.
    I know what you mean about hearing from the author.
    I have made a few authors mad in my reviewing and it really bothers me when I do.

    Have a great 4th!


  3. I love to read about your life on the hill, Michele. Those peeks into your life are my favorite parts of your posts. I think you should write a book! It is one that I would love to read! God bless you, my friend.


  4. I love that thought of the pilgrim life being one lived in moment-by-moment obedience and prayer! Sometimes staying put can be the hard and right choice — one where we need to practice obedience. Yet it’s good to realize that we all are pilgrims in this world in some sense, as I think that changes our attitude towards this life. Thank you for sharing this over at GraceFull Tuesday today, Michele!


    1. Thanks, Ronja!
      I’m not good at the aspect of pilgrim living that requires staying in the moment. I’m such a destination person. The journey is usually challenging for me, and then I look back at it and realize it was the most important part of the process.
      Really working on this . . .


    1. That’s exactly why I appreciated Michelle Van Loon’s warnings about the tourist lifestyle. For some reason, even though Scripture does not support the idea, I have the notion firmly planted that I’m supposed to be comfy on this planet.
      Sometimes we all need to be jostled out of error!


  5. I just heard of Michelle’s book recently, so I was happy to see it reviewed here. I especially love the last point you shared: ” the home we have always longed for is not a destination, but a Person.” I’ve thought of my own family that “wherever we are is home,” but how much more that is true in regard to our Lord and Savior.


  6. I love this idea of wandering and the invitations that we as Christians are extended as followers. We either choose the “yes” and follow where God calls or the “no” to follow where the world calls.

    I love your story about your mailbox. There is nothing wrong with living in the same place for twenty-five years. Thanks for sharing this book review.


  7. I’d love to take that inner journey that leads to peace and contentment! Beautiful post and so much to think about getting into the “pilgrim” mode to bring more meaning into one’s life. God Bless you, Michelle! Have a lovely week ahead.


    1. Peace and contentment are tall orders in our context of acquisition and continual striving. I’m with you in this desire to lean into our identity as pilgrims, holding things loosely and always being ready to respond to the movement of the “Cloud” and the “Fire.”


  8. ‘I have borne witness to the gritty process of knowing and being known by people who remember most of my faults and failings, but love me anyway.’

    Yes, yes. There’s all kinds of richness in staying put. But oh when you have no choice but to leave … excruciating.


  9. I have never heard of this book. I am now in the church of my former youth pastor. I have not ventured far. However in this phase in life I am helping serve the church instead of a teen in the pew. I will have to check the book out. #ablogginggoodtime


  10. I am not a physical traveller : I like visiting new places but am not keen on the journey and never fly anywhere. However, I hope my mind is open and never still, ready to embrace the changes that can occur at any time. Thanks for linking up with #globalblogging


  11. I found this post at a perfect moment for me, some really important things for me to ponder. Thank you for joining #ablogginggoodtime


  12. I love the concept of ‘pilgrim in place’–may we always see the heart of God (which isn’t about our contentment…although that’s what we secretly think we need).


    1. So true! We have our list of ways we want God to behave, and we want Him to demonstrate His love in ways that WE demonstrate love. Thanks for this thought, Anita, because it reminds me of how short-sighted that is.


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