Heavy Load

Heavy Load

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:29, NIV)

When I was fourteen years old, I went on an oversees trip to Hungary.  Since we were first stopping in Oklahoma for training, I needed two bags: a regular one for the OK camp and a backpack for the oversees travel.  The backpack needed to be sleek, innovative, carry all I needed for the oversees part, and, above all, be very light.  I’d have to carry it through the airport and up & down the streets of Hungary.

My mom invested in what in 1998 to a non-hiking family was a very expensive backpack.  I think we paid $89.  And this was not money we had floating around in the sky.  I knew what a gift it was for my mom to buy it.

It was a beauty.  Lithe, streamlined, and heavy-duty.  Exactly what my mom had in mind.  It was designed to be no burden.

There was one problem, though.

My hoarding.

When I got to Oklahoma, things fell apart at the seams.  I experienced a tremendous amount of anxiety about leaving the country, and my backpack became my security blanket.  Rather than leaving the intended amount behind at the camp and packing only what I needed, I tried to stuff as much as I could in my backpack.  I don’t remember all that I crammed inside, but I do remember knowing the things inside were going to be ruined by the pressure.   And I was right.  Cookies I’d wanted to save were crumbled, and shampoo or something like it burst on the airplane flight.

I remember the time I started realizing how alone I was.  At the airport, the guys would help carry the girls’ backpacks voluntarily, but few wanted to carry mine even when I pleaded.  I remember at one point the thin, short, sweet leader of my group carrying my backpack herself to help me out.

I was embarrassed none of the boys really wanted to help me.  But this made me want to hoard my things even more.  I needed this stuff.  It might help me get through what was looking like a very long trip.  So throughout much of the trip, I kept even things I knew I was never going to use.

I stored a bent, melted box of chocolates simply because my mom had bought it for me and I didn’t want to leave it behind.  I didn’t want to leave anything behind.  Even trash.  Somehow trash became sentimental for me, and I didn’t want to part with it. And even if the stuff didn’t help me, how could I leave it behind now?  If I threw things away, I’d have to take them out of my backpack first.  And the other teens would think I was weird for keeping stuff like a crumpled box of ruined chocolates in my bag.  They might even make fun of me.

The more time went by, the heavier my load felt.  By the time we were walking down the streets of Hungary, I was feeling a numb twinge in my back I’d never felt before.  This started a back pain that did not resolve itself just because we arrived back home.  I’d done too much damage, lifting something that was far too heavy for me to try to carry.

The “unnecessariness” of my heavy load, the shame I experienced from carrying trash on my back, the difficulty finding any of the handsome boys to carry my backpack for me, and the deep damage of the experience to my back and, far worse, to my feelings . . reminds me of what it’s like to carry a heavy spiritual load around in this life.

The backpack God gives us to carry around our spiritual stuff is incredible: ergonomic, state-of-the-arc, and intricately designed for every good thing we might want to carry.  But sin—our choice to turn away from God—ruined the way we look at our backpack.  Rather than storing precious memories and good works to show our Father, we often pack away grudges, failures, disappointments, and our most horrible mistakes.  The problem is, we were never meant to carry such weighty, bulky things.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:29, NIV)

Jesus makes an incredible claim, and it’s not the world’s sort of claim of trading in our old backpack for a larger model to carry more sin.   God’s claim is that we can dump the wadded-up trash, ruined possessions, mold, and dirt in our backpack directly on Him.  (For the origin of this analogy, please see Max Lucado’s beautiful book Next Door Savior or the booklet He Did This Just For You.)

Jesus suffered for your sin and my sin personally at the cross.

I could hardly convince the boys at the airport to carry my backpack, even with cajoling and pleading and pathetic flirting.  But with God, we don’t have to worry about begging Him to forgive us—He is eager and waiting to do so!  The Message of the Cross is God running up to us, arms outstretched, ready to take our worst burdens on Himself so we can be free.  All we have to do is hand our heavy load over.

Jesus, I give you my heavy load.  The burden is grave.  Please empty my bag of its disgusting sin and fill it with Your featherweight grace.  I bow down to You, Jesus, the only One able to carry my load.

Thank you for wanting to.

In Jesus Name, Amen.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:29, NIV)

“Just let go.”

Frodo stands on the precipice of Mount Doom, ring dangling from its chain, holding it over the brink.

He stares down at it, and the rhythmic pounding of the ring is now so loud it shakes the whole mountaintop.  Cultic lightning flashes down on the ring, and it burns into Froto’s eyes as if the light is acid.

And then Sam says it.

“Just let go.”

.               .               .                .               .               .                .

It’s been a journey of time, travel, battle, friendship, and betrayal.  Frodo has seen friends fight for them, enemies magnetize to him, and even one of his own fellowship overcome by the power of the ring and try to kill him.

He’s been stabbed by the sword of a wraith, a wraith so consumed by lust for the ring it knows nothing else.  He’s been almost swallowed alive by a gigantic sea creature.  He’s been tricked by a villainous friend into entering the cave of a monstrous spider alone.  He’s watched one of his dearest friends be dragged off the edge of a cliff as he gave Frodo time to escape.  He’s been beaten and almost stabbed by a nasty-hearted orc.  And the giant hand of a troll has groped for him behind the rocks of a cave.

And all this time, all this time, he’s been carrying the ring.

It’s the one reason why all allies have gone on this journey and fight for him.  And it’s the one reason why all enemies pursue him and fight against him.

And here he is, at the very edge of the world he knows, and only one thing, only one prevents him from total freedom.

The chain he holds in his hand, the chain that holds the ring.

All the enticement Sauron can muster to convince Frodo to keep the ring is in full-force.  A wicked delight pours through Frodo as he begins to dream what his life would be like if he just held on to that little gold ring.

All the power.  All the glory.  All the worship.  He could rule everything.  He could grow in metallic greatness as all the things evil loves most overtake him.  He can see it in the gleam of gold.

And he puts the ring on.

Evil hears the silent shriek of the ring, as it deals the deathblow to Frodo, and all evil comes running.

All allies have had their epic battle.  For Sam, it was Shelob.  For Aragorn, it was identity.  For Boromir, it was temptation.  For Gimli, prejudice.  For Legolas, connection.  For Elron, apathy.  For Faramir, worth.  For Galadriel, power.  For Gandalf, the Balrog.

And for Frodo . . the ring.

And Frodo won’t let go.

.               .               .                .               .               .                .

I heard the Lord of the Rings first when I was a kid, and I felt like something deep within the story had been left buried.  I didn’t like the series at all.

Years later, when the first movie came out in theaters, I tagged along with friends.  I was astonished at the exquisite depth of Tolkien’s world and I was again captivated, more so even than before.

But at the close of the third movie, as many times as I watched the series, I never understood why Frodo’s role ended without victory.

Tolkien’s purpose had seemed all along to engage me in the fight between good and evil.  In the end, the heroes all win . . . all but the focal hero of the whole series: Frodo.

Frodo loses his battle to the ring.  He does not let go.

Yes, the ring is destroyed.  Yes, Sauron is defeated.  But Frodo never lets go of the ring.

Even at the end of the story, when Frodo bows out of the Shire to take a ship to the land of the dead, I never felt like he’d let go.  The wound the wraith gave him still hurts.  And he has been so utterly captured by the ring that it’s like he dies a slow death after its quick death.

It was like . . the ring was the most powerful.  The ring won.  The world was rescued from its powers . . but the ringbearer wasn’t.  He had sold himself to the ring, and he couldn’t buy himself back.

It bothered me.  There are so many parallels between the fight for good and evil in Lord of the Rings and real life.  But what was Tolkien trying to say about temptation and evil in Frodo’s story?

I don’t know the answer to that.  But I know for sure I don’t want to be Frodo.

I don’t want to live my life on a journey for God’s Kingdom, only to betray everything I know and give in to the power of Satan at the end.  Like Frodo, I have a league of allies who have devoted their lives to protecting me from Satan’s lies.  I think of all the martyrs, missionaries, preachers, authors, and guides who have, by the power of God, stopped the onslaught of Satan’s army from overtaking the world.

And I think of Christ Himself, the forerunner of this epic journey.  Christ, who gave every footstep, every word, every act to drawing us to the Father.  Christ dealt the death blow to Satan’s seductive slavery over our lives.  He placed Himself in the hands of evil itself to die to evil’s worst and to prove, once and for all, that God will never give in to even the most powerful temptation Satan can ever muster.

And then Jesus died.  And evil was leveled.  Flattened.  Crumpled.

It was like Jesus took a sledgehammer and shattered the cages of sin that had held us captive for so long.  In fact, listen to how the Bible predicts what Jesus’ epic life will be like, many hundred years before Jesus comes to earth:

This is what God the Lord says—

he who created the heavens and stretched them out,

who spread out the earth and all that comes out of it,

who gives breath to its people,

and life to those who walk on it:

“I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness;

I will take hold of your hand.

I will keep you and will make you

to be a covenant for the people

and a light for the Gentiles,

to open eyes that are blind,

to free captives from prison

and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness. (Isaiah 42:5-7, NIV)

Because of Jesus, we don’t have to put on the ring.  He has proven, once and for all, that we really can throw the ring–whatever that is for us–into the molten lava where it belongs . . . and be free.  But we can do that one way, and only one way: by the power of Christ.

I guess that’s why Frodo couldn’t let go.  He just did not know about the Savior who has power over everything.

“All power in Heaven and over the earth has been given to me.” (Jesus, quoted in Matthew 28:18b, WNT)