(Above: Our gear, all packed up the morning we hiked into the hut system)
Well, I soon began replacing those dictionaries, dumbbells, and heavy sweaters inside my pack with the actual gear we needed. All that space that had contained the heaviest stuff I could fit in there began to be filled with useful things…a camelback, freeze-dried food, clothing sets, rain jacket, emergency gear.
You want to hear something weird? Though I had more stuff crammed in that pack than I did before, it actually seemed much lighter. I don’t know if this has something to do with weight distribution or if I’d simply over-done it with the practice weight; but that pack was definitely much easier to carry with the useful stuff in it.
I also learned about things not worthy carrying. Francesca taught me to wrap my Nalgene water bottle twice around with duct tape. That way, I could easily rip off a piece of tape if I needed it, but I didn’t have to bring the entire roll along. Why did this matter so much? Truth is…that night before we hiked into the hut system, I had to re-pack my bag 3 times. Food didn’t seem super important to pack during training, but its importance skyrocketed that night. Francesca’s trick allowed me to take an two apples instead of an entire roll of duct tape.
The other thing is that I gained a new appreciation for the weight of things. A roll of duct tape is not that heavy to hold in your hand; but when it’s inside a pack on your back for hours upon hours as you climb uphill at 11,000 feet, it’s effect is far greater. We all had to make decisions about what was really worth carrying. Dry shampoo? Sure is a big bottle…nah…sunscreen instead. Pajamas? No. Not worth it…clothes are HEAVY. Just wear the next day’s hiking clothes to bed. Pillow? Are you insane? No! Stuff your clothes in your pillow case and sleep on that!
And just how much food will you need? I worry a lot about food. If my blood sugar gets low, I’m in trouble. If I let stomach acid build up by waiting too long to eat, I get terrible stomach aches. I get super hungry right before bed. Nutritionally speaking, I’m a pain in the neck to have around. As I packed up all the food I wanted to have for all the “just in case” scenarios I could think of, I realized there was no way I could fit anything else in there. Francesca had outlined the exact number of meals and snacks we needed. I was going to have to unpack all the extra that was making me feel safe (but prevented me from packing all else I needed)…and trust her.
Bear spray. Never had to buy that stuff before. Heavy. Expensive. And when you’re standing there in Sportsman’s Warehouse, wondering if you’re actually ever going to use this stuff, it’s easy to talk yourself out of it. And I’d done that…till a couple days before we left. When a thing seems far off, it’s easy to take preparation lightly. When it’s staring you in the face, though, it’s a different story. My flippant attitude was quickly replaced by the realization that a few days from that moment, I could be face-to-face with a bear…and regretting my decision. I forked over the $40 and tucked that stuff in one of the side pockets of my pack for quick access.
Though we all had maps, we all had compasses, we all had external battery packs for our phones, we also shared some stuff. We didn’t all have to take emergency tarps, so two of us carried them for the group. Francesca carried a pack of freeze dried soup that would feed all of us one night, which lightened everyone else’s load. I can’t remember the other things we shared. I think it’s because they just weren’t that big of a deal, since we shared them.
As you have probably guessed, all this thought about packing and carrying stuff got me thinking about the way I travel through life. I have had many times in my life where I was lugging around heavy, worthless things…
(That’s me…with all the stuff….)
Though they felt necessary…as if I had no choice but to carry them…they weighed me down. They slowed my progress to a healthy heart, freed from grudges. They stole my peace as I re-played wrongs and hurts. They wore me down and stole my joy. Allowing these things to stay around in my life is even more detrimental than packing a dictionary in my backpack.
In addition, we are told by our Guide, our Shepherd, not to carry these things:
“Cast all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.” – 1 Peter 5:7
“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith…” – Hebrews 12:1-2a
“Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.” Ephesians 4:31-32
We are going to have to trust Him. We will have to trust that the things He tells us to pack…like tender-hearted grace and forgiveness…will benefit us more than the stuff that actually entangles us and hinders our upward progress. I know…anger feels like self-protection, and worry feels like preparation. But just like Francesca knew, our Guide knows that stuff is heavy and only hinders us. We need to unpack some stuff to make room for the things we really need for a successful journey in this life.
And the truth is that we just don’t know what’s ahead of us. I actually should’ve carried bear spray on every single training hike I took. It was silly of me to think that I wouldn’t encounter a bear until I crossed the Colorado border. I was just so comfortable on my New Mexico trails…so flippant about the possibility of seeing a bear. Thankfully, I never did, but friends of mine did on those very same trails I’d been hiking. In the same way, I find my willingness to spend time on my relationship with God correlates to my comfort level and current perceived need for Him. I need Him every day, regardless of whether I’m facing a crisis. There is real danger out there every day…just like with the bears…
Temptation to become prideful and forget all about God
Temptation to worry myself sick
Temptation to become jealous of everyone who has something I don’t
Temptation to make life all about me
Temptation to allow my anger to control me
There is, of course, so much more to a relationship with God than strength to fight temptation. But it is foolish of me to think that I don’t need His protection every single day, and the truth in His word is what brings that protection. The $40 I spent on bear spray was a small investment compared to the protection it gave me. An investment of time each day in the Bible, whether it’s reading or listening to it, is well worth it for the strength and protection it yields.
And a final thing: I’m more of an introvert than you might think. I don’t like to share a ton about myself, I get anxious in social situations, I have a hard time letting people into the messy parts of my life. But I have seen what happens when I try to carry everything…all the difficulties, challenges, sorrows, and struggles of life…by myself. We just weren’t made to live life that way. If you resonate with what I’m saying, please consider allowing a few others to carry some of your stuff with you. Some of the greatest privileges of my life have been praying someone through something hard, bringing dinner to someone who’s struggling, or jumping in to help someone in need. We steal that joy from others when we refuse to let them serve us. Give it a try…ask someone to pray for you or tell someone you’re struggling. You’ll be so surprised at the relief you feel when you’re not carrying it all alone anymore. In that same vein of things, we need to see what “stuff” in other people’s packs can fit in our own, and bring relief to them as well.
“ Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.” – Galatians 6:2
I want to invite you to just consider today all that’s in your spiritual, emotional, and mental backpack. What worthless stuff do you need to unpack? What necessities do you need in there? Are you packing protection every time you set out on the trail? What things in there can you share with others to lighten your load, or theirs?
I’m still learning about packing well, but I have learned this:
Packing done wrong will only weigh us down. Packing done right ensures protection, strength, and joy for the journey ahead.
Happy packing…and go do it with a Friend.