Light Burdens and Heavy Backpacks


Light Burdens and Heavy Backpacks

When I used to work in northern Saskatchewan at an outward-bound wilderness camp, part of my job was to take groups on multi-day hiking trips. Whenever we packed for our trips, the essentials absolutely had to make it into the backpacks: food, shelter, sleeping bags, rain gear, plenty of mosquito repellent, and for the love of all that’s holy, don’t forget the toilet paper. (Go ahead. Laugh. It’s funny until it isn’t.) The equipment was divided fairly among the hikers, and the loads were manageable ones. No one was ever given more than they could reasonably carry.

As campers each packed their own personal items, I would roam among them, repeating over and over, “remember, you’ve gotta carry it all, so don’t bring anything you don’t need,” and I would get nods in return as they added their personal necessities to their backpacks.

The first mile or so of the hike would generally be fine, but around the two-mile mark, there would inevitably be a few grumbles about heavy backpacks. Sometimes, a redistribution of the load would be all that was needed to carry on. But there always seemed to be one camper who felt unjustly burdened because it was manifestly clear to them that they got all the heavy stuff, and their pack was obviously much heavier than everyone else’s. I’d take off some of their load and carry it for them, and it would help for a while. But sooner or later, the complaints would start again. As far as the camper was concerned, it was just too much. The only thing that would fix the situation would be to either shed the pack entirely or just die right there on the trail.

So we’d pull over, and I’d take a look in the pack to see what the problem was. And the conversation would always go something like this…

“Well, it’s no wonder your pack is so heavy! Why on earth did you pack four pairs of shoes? You brought six sweatshirts? How many forks did you think you’d need? Did you seriously bring a butane curling iron?”

The answer was inevitably a protest. “But I needed that!!!”

Oh, kiddo, you were so wrapped up in your insecurities, your “just in case’es, and your “I can’t live without that’s that you made your pack so much heavier than it needed to be. No wonder you’re struggling.

Would that I could have foreseen that plank in my own eye while helping the camper with that speck in theirs. As a grownup trying to remain faithful to my vocation, I tend to forget the very lesson I tried to instill in the hikers as they prepared for their journeys: don’t bring anything you don’t need.

When Jesus invited us along on this kingdom-building adventure trek of his, he told us to leave everything behind. Guys like Peter and Andrew dropped their nets. James and John left their boat behind. Meanwhile, I stuffed everything I could into my backpack. All of my worries about tomorrow. My regrets from yesterday. My insecurities. My need for approval. My jealous streak. My perfectionism. My desire to be popular. My need to be right. The argument I should have won in 2019.  And whatever else I might need just in case something goes sideways, or worse, Jesus fails me.

And then I get resentful because the load is heavy. I hear Jesus say, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light,” and I get supremely annoyed. Quit with the singing while you’re hiking, buddy. No, it’s not easy. And it sure as heck isn’t light. In fact, the load you’ve given me is heavier than everyone else’s. I’m tired! I’m worn out! I’m exhausted, and I’m collapsing under the weight, and I can’t keep up with you, Jesus!

In this Sunday’s gospel (Matthew 11:25-30) Jesus reminds us that if it feels like our vocation is weighing us down, it’s probably not what he’s given us to carry that is causing the problem. He hears our protests and objections and invites us to the side of the trail. Let’s see what’s in your pack, kiddo. It’s probably much heavier than it needs to be. “Come to me, all who labour and are heavy burdened, and I will give you rest.”

Jesus, help me unload my pack and follow you.

By Darcie Lich
Vocation Team – Oblate Associate
(306) 220-0527

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