I grew up on Pilgrim’s Progress.
One of my favorite times as a child was when my parents would read aloud to us in the evenings. We read through all kinds of books over the years, from autobiographies about famous inventors to heartwarming short stories and a whole heap of missionary hero stories. But one of the best was the beautiful allegory of the life and journeys of Christian in John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress.
I was only four the first time we went through the book and the specific allegories may have gone over my head at first, but I caught the point of the story and it stuck in my heart. It was the beginning of a lifelong love of Pilgrim’s Progress and of allegories that taught vital truths wrapped up in relatable stories.
My love for this story and the deep truths and profoundly simple illustrations of the Christian life woven into every single part of John Bunyan’s book was only deepened when my grandparents gave my brother and me the amplified, audio drama version of Pilgrim’s Progress produced by Jim Pappas (available in two parts) the year before I turned six. My siblings and I listened to it over and over until we could recite the entire thing by heart, and often our play was inspired by different obstacles Christian faced on the way to the celestial city.
As I grew up, Pilgrim’s Progress became less of an intriguing story and more of a deep lesson book that shaped my own relationship with Jesus and walk as a Christian profoundly over the years. So many times when I was in “the depths of despair”, or felt like I was walking through a particularly frightening valley of the shadow of death, I would remember Christian. I would remember how all along the way, no matter how bad things got, he was never alone. And I knew that I wasn’t, either.
From Pilgrim’s Progress, I learned about the joy of keeping on the narrow path, even if it was the difficult one. I learned about the danger of detours and delaying and about fighting giants, and the key of promise that opens all the locks of the enemy. And each day, Sometimes, I felt as if I was playing pilgrim, much like the March Girls of Little Women — living each day as a journey, encountering my own giants and valleys, victories and defeats.
Pilgrim’s Progress holds one of the most treasured places in my heart. I’ve been inspired. Encouraged. Challenged. I’ve laughed when I’ve read the book, and I’ve cried through chapters that filled me with hope and courage again. And always, I am reminded of where I want my life journey to lead me.
And some things never really change. We long ago wore out the cassette tapes and several cassette players along the way. But three decades and counting of reading (and listening to) this beautiful book still touches my heart and life every time. I find that no matter how often I hear the familiar words, there is always something perfect for where I am right now. I find encouragement to help me fight my personal giants. And even though I’ve heard it over and over again, tears still come to my eyes as I think of the cross on the skull-shaped hill and the One who hung there. Because I’ve been there at the foot of the cross to watch my own burdens tumble away.
Yes, Pilgrim’s Progress continues to inspire and encourage me every time I read it. John Bunyan’s little book is one of a few books I consider a must to be re-read over and over. It is a book that everyone who is on this journey towards a better place really should read at least once.
If you aren’t familiar with older English literature, it may be a little challenging, but with a dictionary handy, reading the original is well worth the experience.
Growing up with Pilgrim’s Progress was truly one of the best things that has blessed me over and over again.
If you’ve never read it, do it now. If you haven’t recently, think about pulling out a copy and rereading it again this year. And if you’d like to hear the dramatized version I grew up on, you can find both part one and part two on Audible so you can listen to them on repeat just like I do.