When it comes to packing one's bags, there are two types of travelers.
(For those of you who have forgotten what travel is thanks to 2020, it’s when you board a plane, train, boat, or car and simply go somewhere. Apparently, it's supposed to be amazing.)
There are those who pack light. One carry-on, and maybe a small personal item if they’re feeling feisty. Conversely, there are those who bring four suitcases for a weekend trip.
I’m not saying that one method of packing is right and the other is wrong. I am saying that one is convenient and the other is indescribably annoying.
Years ago, I dated a girl, who shall remain nameless, who fell squarely into the latter category. She epitomized it. She celebrated it. She would bring fifteen separate outfits along for a four-day trip, citing the fact that she never knew what mood she would be in when each morning rolled around. She would bring a similar number of pairs of shoes, not to mention countless coats or swimsuits, depending on the destination. Multiple laptops. A makeup bag that equaled the size of all my luggage.
Guess which gentleman carried all her bags?
Not this one, that’s for sure.
When boarding planes, I usually pretended I didn’t know her as she bowled over small children with her plethora of oversized carry-ons.
I, on the other hand, have transitioned from somewhere in between these two camps to being an extremely efficient packer. Don’t get me wrong; I enjoy wearing clean clothes as much as the next (non-touring musician) person, so I typically plan on doing laundry somewhere in the middle of longer trips so as to get by with the bare minimum of packed clothing. I figure that the less I bring, the less I have to haul around, the less I have to worry about, and the more I can simply focus on living in the moment and enjoying myself. To be fair, though, anyone who has traveled internationally with me knows that I occasionally have to make an H&M stop to buy some cheap underwear when a washing machine isn't available.
The best part about differing packing styles, though, is this: unless you're rich and lazy, chances are you are in charge of filling your own suitcase, and you get to determine exactly what and how much you bring along.
We, and only we, get to pack our own bags.
It stands to reason that if the old adages are true, life too is a journey.
It turns out that I’m much better at packing my physical bags efficiently than I am at packing those metaphorical bags I insist on bringing along on this expedition called existence. It turns out that I’m holding on to a lot of things I’d be better off without. It turns out that traveling light is easier said than done.
I suspect I’m not the only one with baggage.
How many suitcases of anger have you been carrying with you? Of regret? Of hurt? Of shame? If you’re anything like me, you’ve got more of this kind of luggage than they’d let you bring onto a plane.
Yes, others can and will do us wrong. However, we have the power to forgive, to let go of bitterness, to dump out our suitcases full of hate into an ocean of grace.
Yes, we will fail. Repeatedly. At work, at relationships, at family, at accomplishing our goals. Nevertheless, we have the ability, here and now, to empty our backpacks of embarrassment, of regret, of lies about what we’re worth.
How many backpacks of money, status, success, and ego have you managed to strap to your back? I find that the more I try to rid myself of this kind of luggage, the more I seem to accumulate.
Yes, we will get our priorities mixed up. We might spend years chasing wealth instead of authenticity, success instead of joy. But in this moment, in each moment, we have been given the gift of luggage that isn’t locked up, and we can choose to rid ourselves of these faulty priorities and reorient our lives towards what matters, one day and one step at a time.
When we travel light, there’s no need to wait at the ticket counter. At baggage claim. At customs. When we travel light, we have less to worry about and keep track of, and can focus on the exciting journey at hand.
When we travel light, we even have enough hands to help those we’re traveling alongside with their heavy bags. We can offer to carry them, as Galatians 6:2 directs, and even do what we can to help rid those we love of their burdensome baggage once and for all.
Often, the bags we carry on life’s journey are not necessarily evil, in and of themselves. Suitcases often fill up with things like work, service, and social engagements, pieces of our lives that, in their proper context, are necessary and important. But when we find that most, if not all, of our bags are filled with just one of these things, when we spend that 70th hour at work to provide for our families, yet neglect them in the process, perhaps it’s time to re-evaluate exactly what our luggage is filled with.
What’s in your bags? What are you holding onto? What is weighing you down? These are questions that each of us must ask of ourselves, must answer for ourselves.
Some two thousand years ago, a man who was also God was betrayed by his friends. He was whipped and beaten gruesomely, then asked to carry a heavy wooden cross to the top of a hill, a cross that he would then be nailed to.
Jesus was so weak from loss of blood, pain, and exhaustion that he stumbled under the weight of his cross, unable to carry it further. A man named Simon, who was passing through town, was compelled to carry the cross of Christ to the top of Golgotha. Though he knew it not, his act of kindness, though compulsory, became symbolic of what we, those who follow Jesus, are also asked to do. Jesus, in Luke 9:23 (NIV), puts it this way: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.”
It’s hard to carry a cross when your hands are already full.
Simon carried Jesus’ cross a single time. We are asked to do it every day.
When we travel light, when our hands, our time, our agenda, our lives aren’t full of our own cherished luggage, we are free to carry the cross of Christ.
To those not steeped in Biblical terminology, carrying a cross sounds rather morbid. Rather onerous. Rather barbaric. Jesus makes it clear, though, that he doesn’t want to burden us with a heavy load, with restrictive rules and cumbersome commands. His yoke is easy. His burden is light. He knows that when we deny ourselves and pick up his cross, we are entering into life, real life, through his death. He knows that the luggage we cling to will only bring ruin.
He longs for us to trade all our baggage in. Our addictions. Our selfishness. Our love of money. Our need for approval. Our pain. Our regrets. He longs for us to free our hands and our hearts to carry one thing, and one thing only: his cross. It is at the cross, in the cross that his lavish love for a dying world is made clear. When we give up our own selfish desires so we can love God and love others, we carry the cross of Christ.
Are you exhausted from carrying leaden loads of luggage? It’s time to unload. To let go. To travel light.
Jesus gives us an invitation, one that all of us weary travelers can relate to. “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me--watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” (Matthew 11:28-30, MSG)
My burdened, battered heart longs to learn those unforced rhythms of grace. Longs to free up my hands to carry a cross. Longs to let go of the lesser things that hold me back, that keep me from the life of reckless grace that I know I was created to live.
Jesus knows the depths of our perpetual struggle when he gently reminds us to pick up our cross daily. This wily world has a way of slipping things into our baggage when we’re not paying attention. Of filling our lives with things that, though they may be good, crowd out the best things. Jesus faced every temptation that we have ever known, yet clung to his singular mission, a mission that led him to travel light all the way to Calvary.
Jesus doesn’t force us to surrender. Doesn’t coerce us to pick up his cross. Doesn’t rip our possessions or priorities from our grasp against our will. He simply shows us, patiently and repeatedly, that traveling light is the only way to find meaning beyond our days, to store up treasure in heaven, to live a life of open hands and an open heart.
This life matters. What we do with our days, our months, and our years matters. Don’t carry those burdens for another minute. Lay them down. If you find yourself instinctively picking them up again, don’t beat yourself up over it. Instead, reach for your cross. Find someone to lavish a random act of kindness upon. Take a day off work and spend it with your family. Right an old wrong. Forgive yourself for a past mistake.
Turn your eyes upon Jesus
Look full in his wonderful face
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of his glory and grace
As you look to Jesus and pick up your cross, you’ll find that the allure your old baggage once held is fading away. You’ll find yourself living a life of simplicity, authenticity, and purpose, the life you’ve always wanted.
You’ll find yourself traveling light.
Chirp, chirp. Chirp, chirp.
I rubbed my eyes and squinted at the floor. Was a piece of bark squeaking in my general direction? Or was my imagination getting the best of me again?
Mentally, I ran through a list of probable causes. I had just arrived at my condo in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. My two-leg flight had only lasted seven hours, so I wasn’t overly jet lagged. I’d slept well the night before, so it couldn’t be a lack of sleep. I don’t touch psychedelic drugs, so my eyes and ears were not deceiving me. Thus, there had to be another explanation for the detritus on my floor that was attempting to communicate with me.
Granted, my condo is prone to flooding. My back patio sits just a couple inches lower than the floor inside the condo, and lies underneath some palm trees. When fronds block the patio drain, and I’m not there to sweep them away, the patio fills up with rainwater, which eventually seeps underneath my back door and inundates my house.
Upon arrival, I opened my front door and was once again greeted by signs of a recent flood. So, I began to clean, which is exactly what I love doing after a day of travel. While sweeping the living room floor, I kept hearing chirping from the corner. Finally, I spotted the piece of bark that was causing such a ruckus. As my broom approached it, it squeaked and hopped away.
That piece of debris was, in fact, the tiniest frog I had ever seen. No bigger than a large fly, she could still hop over a foot in the air. Her adorable, tiny feet and her big, inquisitive, fearful black eyes left me no choice but to immediately fall in love with this diminutive creature. I named her Rosie the Ribbeter.
Rosie hopped toward my bathroom and took refuge in the bottom of my wooden bathroom door, which had been damaged by water from the most recent flood and had separated at the bottom, creating what turned out to be a desirable habitation for such a Lilliputian amphibian.
Time passed, and I settled in. I didn’t see Rosie for a couple days, and hoped that she had found her way back out to freedom via the tiny crack under my front door. One night, around four in the morning, I groggily stumbled from my bed to the bathroom. I opened the door and turned on the light. Immediately, I heard the loudest shrieking, far more piercing than the chirping from a couple days before, and saw a tiny creature jumping around. It was Rosie. She had apparently applied for permanent residency in the bottom of my door. Based on her screeches, I surmised that I had injured her in moving the door. She quickly hopped back to cover. I stopped moving the bathroom door.
From that point on, I knew I had to rescue her. Unfortunately, I didn’t know how.
I started leaving little puddles of water on the floor, in hopes that she could stay alive long enough to find her way to daylight. Several times a day, she would venture out of her door-fort, and I’d spot her, either in the shower or behind the toilet. Whenever I got as close as two or three feet, she would quickly hop out of my reach. Rosie was no slouch. If she ever got the chance to enter the Amphibian Olympics, I have no doubt that she would hop away with several gold medals, or gilded beetles, or whatever it is that they give out for trophies at such events.
All along, I of course knew that I was trying to help her. Regrettably, I don’t speak Frog, and I had a hard time communicating my intentions. She undoubtedly saw me as a giant and a threat. Whenever I tried to guide her toward the living room, and ultimately toward the freedom beyond the front door, she would retreat to safety.
After a week of this, I knew time was running out for Rosie. She needed food, and needed it fast. I wasn’t about to introduce live insects into my home, and obviously, Rosie couldn’t live in my condo forever; after I left, she would surely starve or die of thirst.
If only there was a way for me to show Rosie that I was trying to save her, not harm her. If only I could speak Frog.
I covered the bathroom floor with a bunch of Mason jars, lying on their sides, full of leaves, sticks, and grass. I put a little water in each, hoping to mimic her natural habitat enough that she might hop into one, and I might be able to take her to safety.
On the daily, I grew more and more attached to this tiny frog. It goes without saying that this year has been one of hurt and suffering for so many, and all of my hopes of any good remaining in this broken world were pinned on somehow helping this poor, innocent frog make it to safety.
One day, ten days into Rosie’s stay, she disappeared. I didn’t see her for almost 48 hours. I prayed that she had escaped, but feared the worst. I didn’t want to move the bathroom door for fear of injuring her, or worse yet, discovering that she was no longer alive.
At 2 AM on a stormy night, my heart melted as I walked into the bathroom and saw Rosie sitting in the middle of the rug. When she spotted me, she hopped directly to the rim of one of the Mason jars. As I approached, the unthinkable happened. She hopped in! Quickly, I covered the jar with a lid.
Rosie, to her credit, didn’t freak out. It was almost as if she knew that she was safe and was on her way to a better place, where she could live out her days happily gorging on all the insects her little heart desired.
I opened my front door. Those subtropical summer rains beat down in the darkness outside as I walked a mile and a half down empty streets to a place where Google Maps told me I would find a small river named Río Pitillal. Throughout the journey, when we passed under the light of a streetlight, Rosie looked up at me from the jar with those big, black, trusting eyes. Dogs barked. Birds chirped. Rosie, unfazed, kept returning my gaze.
Finally, we arrived. I found a marshy area near the bank of the river. I set the Mason jar down, expecting Rosie to immediately hop out. There were bugs to eat and puddles to splash in, after all.
Instead, she stayed where she was, looking up at me with those unforgettable eyes. So, though not a fan of littering, I left the jar in a tuft of grass near a large puddle. Perhaps Rosie, after enjoying a long, exciting day of feasting on insects, could retreat to the safety of the jar that had been her home for the last mile and a half. Tears welled up, and I started to cry as I bid her farewell.
As I walked back to my condo, soaking wet, I thought about all that Rosie had taught me. I thought about the fact that sometimes stories still do have happy endings. I felt a sense of self-accomplishment for having saved a tiny, helpless creature that surely would have died without me, and wondered if this was how God must feel toward us.
Then, like a thunderbolt in the night, it hit me. Everything I thought I knew about God and the magnitude of his sacrifice was wrong.
Yes, I had gone out of my way to save a frog, and had patted myself on the back for it. Ultimately, though, it had cost me nothing but a little time and a Mason jar.
God, though, didn’t just put out a tiny terrarium for us. He didn’t just try to guide us to the front door as best he could. He didn’t just take a few hours out of his night to walk through the rain to save us, and then say, “It is finished.”
Instead, the King became a tiny frog. Helpless. Powerless. Fragile. Alone.
God gave up everything that divinity entails, because he knew that the only way to save a frog was to become one.
He became like us, so that we could be like him. He lived among us. Taught us. Healed us. Forgave us. He learned to speak Frog.
Not only that, but the story didn’t end as well for Jesus as it did for Rosie. God couldn’t just wave a wand and magically make our sins, our flaws, and the depravity of our hearts disappear. For the wages of sin is death, and the King knew that for justice to be upheld, he must take upon himself the punishment that we deserved. Just as the prophets foretold, though God became a frog, the frogs knew him not. We misunderstood his intentions, much like Rosie misunderstood mine. He was rejected, abandoned, and murdered by the ones he came to save.
Little did we self-important, sanctimonious frogs know that he was the Son of God, the one that even death could not constrain.
This is the Incarnation. A cold night in Bethlehem. A barn. A trough. Some farm animals. The King of everything became a tiny frog so that one day soon, we frogs can spend an eternity with Him on the banks of a river of life that never runs dry, an eternity where we can know as we are known.
So, my fellow frogs, let us hop with hope. Hope for the day when wrongs are made right, when broken hearts are healed, when death and pain are swallowed up in life forever.
And, the next time I’m in Puerto Vallarta, I might just mosey on back to Río Pitillal, look for a Mason jar and a pair of big black eyes, and say hello to an old friend who has taught me so much about what being a frog is all about.
This piece was originally published by Spectrum Magazine (www.spectrummagazine.org).