When I was a teenager, I spent one summer as a backpacking counselor. Every other week I helped lead a group of campers on a five-day hike in the mountains. We had to carry all our food, clothing, and equipment including tents, sleeping bags, stoves, and pots. As we packed, we scrutinized every item to make sure it was absolutely necessary.
Finally we’d be ready to go. No matter how heavy our packs felt when we hoisted them up, we were comforted by the guarantee that each day they would get lighter as we devoured the soggy sandwiches and oranges and bags of gorp and freeze-dried dinners.
Burdens in our bags
In life though, it doesn’t work that way. We always end up with more than we started with. I’m not talking about the physical stuff we acquire along the way, but the emotional burdens we end up carrying. There are the troubles we picked up as children. Others got placed in our packs without us noticing. Then as we became adults, we made a wrong turn here, a detour there, and our load grew some more.
Year after year, we trudge or skip on, managing to carry the unbearable weight. Eventually the strain begins to take its toll: blisters and sore muscles, damaged knees and bent backs. We become soldiers in the army of the walking wounded.
*Some of us, the tough, feel-no-pains ones, have grown not to care that we are walking tilted sharply to one side, barely making forward progress.
*Some of us are complaining mightily or muttering bitterly, and with good cause. It hurts to carry 100 extra pounds of rejection and anger and sadness and disappointment.
*Some of us are suffering exquisitely. “That’s alright,” we say with a martyr’s prim smile when someone offers sympathy. “Jesus said we have to carry our cross, and this is mine to bear.”
*Some of us simply pretend our packs are empty because when we started following Jesus, we were determined to leave our burdens of sin and brokenness behind. We embraced the promise of a fresh, light start. But one day we discover that we’re not exempt either.
We realize that habits we left behind have reappeared in our bags, bigger and heavier than ever. Or we’ve let ourselves be weighed down with extra rules and regulations like the Pharisees Jesus criticized so much.
God’s view of our burdens
God does not load us up with heavy burdens. He wants to lighten our load, not weigh us down with impossible demands.
For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome. I John 5:3
Jesus came to show us what keeping God’s commands looks like, the freedom and easy walking rhythm it brings to our lives. Then He offered us a pack that we can carry all the way to the end:
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 11:29-30 The Message
But God also doesn’t usually snap His fingers and make our heavy troubles disappear from our packs. His yoke may be easy, but we have accumulated a lifetime of trouble. And even when we follow Him, we never become exempt from suffering.
God’s remedy for slogging
So are we doomed to slog on our journey of faith?
Not at all. There is so much support God makes available to us, including two key helps.
Help number one: He bears our burdens for us
Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior,
who daily bears our burdens. Psalm 68:19
Think of that–here we are lugging our huge packs of troubles and sorrows up the steep mountain path of life, and our Lord comes alongside to help us carry our load. Not just on Sundays, but every day He is ready to take the heavy items out of our packs so it will be easier for us to walk.
The problem is I have a hard time letting go of some burdens. As much as I complain about them, when God offers to take them, I balk at surrendering them. Then there are other burdens I honestly don’t know how to give up. I pray and surrender and give them to God, and yet they find their way back into my pack.
For those burdens, I can turn to God’s second remedy.
Help number two: spread the weight around
Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. Galatians 6:2
God intends us to help each other with the troubles that weigh us down. Sometimes we help by listening and giving counsel. Or praying for someone. Or giving practical help like giving a ride to someone who doesn’t have a car, or inviting someone who is new in town over for a meal.
This mutual give-and-take lightens the load, and not just when we’re on the receiving end. Our burden of feeling useless and lonely is lifted as we serve those around us. Recently as I’ve helped someone carry their burden, I’ve noticed how much lighter I feel.
It makes me wonder if that is how God responds when we let Him carry our burdens. He’s next to us on the trail with His oversized, bottomless pack, wanting to help us. Because He cares for us, it must please Him when we put our heavy burdens in His bag.
What’s in your pack?
As the summer draws to a close, it’s a good time to stop and reflect on our journey:
**Who has helped me carry my burdens this summer?
**What burdens has God carried for me?
And heading into the fall, it’s a good time to take stock of what is in our packs:
**What burdens of sin and brokenness do I need to give to God, replacing them with His easy yoke and His light burden?
**Whose burden can I help carry?