Growing up, my only experience with baggage was packing for summer camp. I’ve always sympathized with those who carry heavy loads. Life is so complicated for them, I’ve said to myself. I’ve even thought, Marrying someone with that much baggage would be difficult.
But now, almost 30, I carry my own suitcase of suffering. I carry it awkwardly. I’m just beginning to understand the complicated nature of this weight and the pressure it puts on those closest to me. I must now learn to navigate the strange ebb and flow of grief.
Though it’s hard to view my baggage in a positive light, God has graciously shown me some of its benefits.
The Bible Makes More Sense
One of my hallmates in college once told me she knew she was a sinner but couldn’t think of any sins she’d committed. Every time she tried to repent, she drew a blank. I couldn't relate. Every verse about forgiveness was a gift to my guilty soul. I connected with just about every sinful character in the Bible. As a result, God’s Word was full of conviction and comfort for me.
But it hasn’t been until recently that I’ve come to intimately understand David’s cries for help. His isolation. His fear. His desperation. It wasn’t until I was in the fetal position on the bathroom floor, crying out to God to save my husband and my marriage, that I read with visceral understanding:
I am feeble and crushed;
I groan because of the tumult of my heart.
O Lord, all my longing is before you;
my sighing is not hidden from you. (Ps. 38:8–9)
Since my divorce, groaning and sighing have become a regular part of my prayer life. Promises like Matthew 11:28 have become a treasure: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”
Jesus makes more sense too. His constant sorrow on earth resonates in a way it didn’t before. My awe over how he left heaven to satisfy God’s wrath and win salvation for us has increased. It’s as if his sorrows and sufferings are now printed in bold in my Bible. The more baggage I carry, the more I need him—and the more time I get to spend unpacking it at his feet. These are painful but precious times with my Savior.
Bonding Over Baggage
In 1991 Jerry Sittser lost his mom, wife, and daughter all at once in a car wreck. In his book A Grace Disguised, he writes: “Sorrow took up permanent residence in my soul and enlarged it.”
Baggage can weigh us down so that we fail to see others and Christ clearly. But it can also provide us with an opportunity to practice and receive compassion. When you start walking around with baggage, you suddenly become aware of those traveling beside you. Their loads become visible. Though some choose isolation and self-centeredness, our burdens can lead us into the most blessed community—the community of sufferers.
The people I used to find easy to categorize as “a mess” or “too complicated” are now the ones helping me make it through each day. They pick up my bags and carry them for a while. I help them unpack theirs and we travel together. “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil,” the Preacher writes. “For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow” (Eccl. 4:9).
As I’ve grieved over the past year, I’ve seen the beauty of the church more than ever before. The Sunday after my husband told me he was going to file for divorce, I sat in an empty row at church. The assistant pastor saw me and, knowing what had happened, stepped out from where he’d been worshiping with his family and walked down the aisle to me. He put his arm around me, said “I am so sorry,” and let me cry. Instead of returning to his row, he stood next to me for a few songs so I didn’t have to worship alone. I can’t tell this story or even think about it without tearing up. My baggage doesn’t scare away my brothers and sisters in Christ; it gives them a chance to demonstrate his love. And I get to receive it. “For the body does not consist of one member but of many,” the apostle writes. “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together” (1 Cor. 12:14, 26).
Homesick for Heaven
I asked one of my closest friends about this idea of “baggage,” knowing how greatly she and her husband have suffered this year. “This challenge has given us eternal perspective,” she said. “Life isn’t about how big our house is or how much we made last year. Suffering forces us to think about what really matters—Jesus and souls.”
I love this perspective. Baggage forces us into a cage where we must wrestle with God’s goodness, his grace, and his plans for us. And as we wrestle with heavy things, the flimsy and fleeting matter less.
Another friend walked alongside me for years until his sister died. That day, he refused to carry the weight of his pain to the cross. Instead, he picked it up and walked in the opposite direction.
Baggage, whether given to us at birth, inflicted on us by an abuser, or picked up after a serious mistake, is never light. But for those in Christ, it’s temporary. We will not carry the heaviness into eternity. This reality only increases my longing for his kingdom (Matt. 6:33).
I’m humiliated to admit how many times I’ve whispered, “God, just take me home.” I pray this when the emotional intensity of the loss seems unbearable. I know it’s selfish. I must repent when my strongest desire isn’t to bring glory to God but to see an end to my pain. My pastor recently spoke about Elijah praying in a similar way: “It is enough now, O LORD, take away my life” (1 Kings 19:4). He pointed out the faithlessness of this plea in light of all God had shown Elijah.
We lose heart so quickly. But God was merciful to Elijah. And he’s been merciful to me.
Regardless of what brings you low, humiliation is an equalizer. Job bowed down in humiliation when God appeared before him. He no longer felt the need to argue his case; instead, he put his hand over his mouth. I’ve been weighed down so that I can sympathize with my fellow travelers, and cling more tighlty to God himself. I’ve been brought low to understand better how my Savior was brought lower. It’s been tempting to use this baggage as an excuse to sin—to indulge in self-pity or to build mini-idols. But I see otherwordly wisdom in that Puritan prayer: It’s from the valley, Lord, that we’re truly able to see you in the heights.
We may never get to a place where our suitcase of suffering is empty. But if we allow it to, our baggage will ground us in humility, push us toward Christ’s body, and lift our eyes to the mighty fortress who is our God.