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.