The Burden of Baggage {The Grove: Baggage}

burden of baggage

I imagine we all have an unhealthy knowledge of baggage limits. I bet many of you can feel when a bag has reached its fifty-pound limit without having to use the hand held baggage scales. Intuitively you know how many books each bag can hold and how to disperse items evenly.

For me it is still a bit nerve wracking when I heave my bags up to be weighed at the airports, crossing my fingers, hoping that I packed effectively enough. No one enjoys the last minute baggage shuffle, the one where you frantically make room in one bag by filling up another, finding the perfect balance. Not too heavy that you have to pay extra but not too light that you have wasted space and you could have brought that extra pot if you’d wanted.

Baggage is one of the practical and tangible parts of cross-cultural life that consumes us. Every move we make and every visitor we host brings an array of old, battered luggage coupled with newer, gently used bags. They all pile up in the backspaces of our homes, gathering cobwebs, to be brought out as the next new adventure begins.

Our own emotional and spiritual baggage is much the same. All of us come to the field with a ready made set of baggage that has accumulated on our backs from the day we were born. And while we live overseas, we continue to accumulate even more baggage, blurring the past and the present. It piles up in the back recesses of our hearts, only making an appearance when it is forced to.

Our duffels and suitcases are meticulously packed and carefully weighed, but we aren’t as careful with our own internal baggage. It piles up without our consciously knowing it until it begins to affect our relationships, our decisions and our bodies. After all, there isn’t an airline checker in the world that can weigh our brokenness alongside our vanilla extract and brown sugar.

All of us are broken and damaged in part. None of us has it all together. No one has the perfect theology or the perfect relationships or the perfect understanding. We are all in process and we all need healing from injury we have incurred over a lifetime.

But the Kingdom worker sub-culture places a high value on self-sacrifice. Whether we admit it or not, we rate our fellow workers based on how isolated they are, how long they’ve been there, what trauma they have experienced or what they have given up for the gospel. We’ve decided that tending to our own self is a sign of weakness, weak in tenacity or weak in faith, especially if healing our own souls requires letting go of ministry.  

Currently I am struggling through my own theological baggage, as I have believed that God requires my sacrifice of self in order for others to see Christ. He needs me to die that others might live but as I have made good Christian choices and given my all for God, I have found peace and joy lacking. My feelings of shame and my actions testify that I believe God doesn’t actually care for my personal soul. I am simply a tool to be used up and discarded when the victory is won and the tapestry completed.  

But what if I’m wrong? What if God is a God of healing as the Scriptures say? What if his desire is for ALL to be healed and restored into relationship with him? What if sending me around the world wasn’t about saving lost souls but is about God bringing healing to MY soul? What if God’s desire for us far exceeds the escape of hell, even in the present?

We all have baggage because we have all been uniquely hurt. Our worldviews are skewed, our self-views are twisted, and our view of God is off-center. How could they not be? We are born into a world steeped in sin, sin that affects our very souls, sin that distorts our understanding of the world.

And God hates it. He hates how sin harms our core and he wants to relieve us of the burden. But it won’t be pretty and it won’t be easy. Much like pulling out a suitcase that has been hidden away for years, it may be filled with rat droppings and massive spiders, smelling of mold. But because of his love for us, God will not stand idly by and watch us suffer under the weight forever.

God is a God of healing. He is always for us and never against us. And while we are traveling through the world, desiring to share the good news with others, we ought not forget that our own personal testimony is not over yet. God is still working to expose, clean and bandage old wounds along with new wounds because his love for you and me is immeasurable. The healing he will bring to our broken hearts will testify of a God unlike any other, as he is jealous for us, working to reveal his created work of art.

In Luke 15, Jesus tells the parable of the lost sheep. You know the one, the one that tells us God will leave the 99 in search of the one that’s lost. I’ve spent time angry at that parable and angry with that Jesus because I felt abandoned by him. As a child of his I’ve thought I was one of the 99, that in the grand scheme of God’s plan, his desire is to seek and find the one who is lost, leaving me behind in a crowd of many. Already won and therefore no longer sought.

It’s not true. Whether we are Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, Atheist or Christian, we are all the lost sheep, the one that Christ seeks to save, to protect, and to heal. God’s love for us is relentless and while we are exerting our energy in hopes of seeing others come to faith he is intent on pursuing us also. God does not desire your sacrifice; he desires to heal your soul.   

Do you believe that God requires sacrifice as evidence of faith? Do you believe that God is after the healing of your heart just as much as the healing of an unbeliever?  

The Grove

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  1. Sarah Hilkemann July 26, 2019

    What beautiful, wise words, Joy! Thank you for sharing honestly and vulnerably, and also challenging us to think about the baggage that we don’t even realize we need to deal with.

    There’s a scene in a movie about a Jesuit cross-cultural worker to South America in the 18th-century (it includes the “m” word in the title so I won’t include that here) that resonates so much with what I picture God wanting to do for me. One of the main characters carries a very heavy pack into enemy territory as penance. But when he reaches the top of the mountain, expecting further punishment, instead those he thought were his enemy cut away the pack and it falls away.

    I don’t even realize the heavy burdens I’m carrying (like you shared, what I think Jesus expects of me, what I think is expected of me in Kingdom worker circles), but I picture the Father cutting away that baggage and sending it back down the mountain. Your post is challenging me to ask the Lord to reveal those areas where I need his help and healing to let go of the baggage, and to be intentional about not taking on more baggage that I don’t need. Thank you!!

    1. Joy Smalley July 29, 2019

      I love that image, Sarah. I think I often believe that God is out for punishment when in reality he is out for healing and restoration. The more I know of God, the more I love him and am amazed at what he actually offers my soul. I’ll be praying for you, sister, as you pray for revelation from God.

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