A few years ago, before our first cross-country road trip, my husband, Rob, took me on a date to an outdoor recreation store. He wanted to buy me a backpacking pack. We’d planned a trip across the American West with stops in Yellowstone, the Grand Tetons, and the Rockies. Rob was excited to outfit me for the mountains.
An avid hiker, Rob strode down the aisle of packs, pulled the biggest one off a hook, and held it out enthusiastically. “This one looks great!” he exclaimed. “Try it on!”
I strapped the giant forest-green pack to my back and took a practice walk around some racks of clothes. The straps fit snugly on my shoulders and the waist belt cinched comfortably around my middle. Though the size seemed a little overmuch, I liked the design and was willing to give it a go. After all, we planned on traveling light, and a single piece of luggage seemed like a good idea.
A sales associate who’d been lurking nearby sidled over and asked politely, “Would you like to add some weight?”
As we stood watching, the associate began to load my backpack with sand bags. The pack bulged with weight, and Rob smiled. He could see us climbing mountains already. But when the associate hoisted the pack to my back, I knew it wasn’t going to work.
I tried to stand tall but wobbled. Rob caught me as I bent precariously under the weight of the burden on my shoulders. “Just walk around with it a little bit,” he encouraged. “You’ll get used to it.”
I leaned forward, shifting the backpack further onto my hips, and attempted a lap around the clothing racks. This time, I shuffled a few feet and stopped. It was simply too heavy. “I can’t do this,” I confessed.
Things We Carry
When I think about all I have to carry these days, I often feel like my pack is too heavy to bear. Even before COVID-19 hit the news, the burdens I carried weren’t light. Eight months ago, Rob was killed in a hiking accident. Parenting, work, and grief already filled me to capacity. There was little room left in my life for more weight.
When I think about all I have to carry these days, I often feel like my pack is too heavy to bear.
And now, because of recent events, I live in self-isolation, with limited pantry supplies and scant social interaction. I’m full-time homeschooling my children with just a few days advance notice while trying to work on the side. I’m full of worries and concerns about the future, my frustrations about quarantine, my righteous anger at the brokenness of the world.
All of these and more fill my life with a backbreaking weight that threatens to bring me to my knees. Frankly, I’m doggone tired. And yet, I struggle on. I attempt to make my laps around the clothing racks of life, screwing my courage to the sticking place, biting my lip, and shouldering on because “when the going gets tough, the tough get going.”
Somehow I’ve bought into the narrative that difficult times show us what we’re worth, and above all I want to be worthy. Worthy of acceptance, worthy of love, worthy of the prize for making it through all this.
Except that nowhere in God’s Word will I find that message. Nowhere does God ask me to put my shoulder to the grindstone and push through the pain of the burdens I carry. Nowhere am I called to strive toward the goal of carrying the heaviest pack around.
Trade Your Burdens for Rest
Instead, time and time again, Jesus calls me to unburden myself before him. To acknowledge the weight of the anger, frustration, sorrow, and worry I carry. To grieve the loss of the freedom, flexibility, privilege, and position I now lack. To relinquish my right to carry even these unseemly weights and to lay my burdens at his feet.
If I am to find rest in the midst of troubled times, it must start here. I must shed the American individualist narrative and confess I need Jesus’s easier yoke.
I must shed the American individualist narrative and confess I need Jesus’s easier yoke.
During a particularly difficult period of my young adulthood, a wise older friend encouraged me to pray using my hands. She came from a more expressive church tradition, and she naturally talked with her hands as well. Since childhood, I’d always prayed with my hands folded, a gesture encouraged, no doubt, to keep little fingers still. I don’t know if she peeked when we prayed together, but my folded hands were often clenched. Some days I felt like I was barely hanging on.
As we sat together, my friend showed me how she placed her hands open in her lap when she talked to Jesus. This posture of openness reminded her to release all that she carried to God. When she brought her petitions in prayer, she raised her hands, palms upward, as though physically placing her needs into God’s hands.
Her beautifully embodied faith encouraged her to think and enact her conversation with God. Like David removing Saul’s heavy armor and handing it back, my dear friend unburdened herself in prayer, handing back to God the weighty things only he could carry. There was no pretense, no sad relinquishment, no embarrassment that she couldn’t shoulder through. Only relief. In releasing her weight she could find rest for her soul.
I can take the easy yoke Jesus offers, resting in my weakness and reveling in the beauty of his strength.
These days, it’s obvious there’s little over which I have control. Government prohibitions limit my activities; life’s responsibilities hem me in. I cannot magically erase the feelings and cares that follow me from day to day.
But in all of these things beyond my control, I can choose this. I can confess I’ve been chasing a worldly ideal that encourages me to shoulder on, to carry weights too heavy for me to bear. I can raise my hands in prayer—pleading, sorrowful, anxious, tired—and offer my burdens to Jesus. And I can take the easy yoke Jesus offers, resting in my weakness and reveling in the beauty of his strength.