Wednesday, April 9, 2014

An Uphill Journey with a House on your Back

On Sunday, I made the trip to Lehigh Gap for a training hike.  One of the pitfalls of beginning these training hikes in the gaps is that quite naturally, every hike begins with an uphill climb.  This climb, while not as steep as the climb in Wind Gap held it's own challenge in that it never seemed to end.  For over a mile I trod over the unfamiliar rocky ground climbing a hill that seemed to continue to grow taller with every stride.  After nearly an hour and a quarter, the trail began to level out somewhat.  I had about half an hour remaining before I needed to turn around and descend the mountain, so after a brief pack break, I continued on, now able to quicken my pace slightly.

One thing about carrying your house on your back is that when you're carrying 30% or more of your body weight, you can't move the same way as you normally would.  Adding an additional 40 pounds significantly alters your center of gravity.  I also came to find that on Saturday evening, I had made a somewhat significant mistake.  I had not balanced my load properly, centering the weight higher up in the pack, which meant that my shoulders bore more weight than they normally should.  True, when I realized half way into my hike that this mistake had been made, I could have stopped and repacked; and were I going to be hiking for more than three hours, I certainly would have done so.  Instead I decided to leave the pack as it was and begin my descent.  A little discomfort surely would not be a major issue for the last 90 minutes of my hike, right?  Well, on Monday morning my shoulders thought differently.  But the important lesson that I've learned will stick with me more because of it.  Biomechanically, I know that an improperly balanced load will lead to injury, and now my body will remember the consequences of carrying the weight too high.  Mild discomfort now is surely better than significant injury later!

Sometimes I find this life to be very similar to an uphill journey with a house on your back.  I often find that mountaintop experiences are far and few between.  Instead it's as if a long hill is set before me and with each step, the hilltop seems more distant.  Yet I continue to climb, slowly but surely winding my way to the top.  The houses on our backs, as we climb to the ever elusive pinnacle, contain the things that we need to reach the top; but sometimes I wonder, how much excess do we load on ourselves?  How much weight do we needlessly carry?

When loading a pack for a long journey, it is important not only to pack the right equipment, but to properly balance it.  The items that weigh the most (food and water) are placed closest to the spine in the middle of the back.  Incidentally, food and water are also the most critical elements for survival.  In the Christian life, our food and water - the item that should be placed in the center of our packs closest to our hearts - is the Word of God.  The scriptures are full of imagery of God's Word as food and water for the soul.

"How sweet are your words to my taste,
      sweeter than honey to my mouth!" Psalm 119:103

"Thy words were found, and I did eat them; 
and thy word was unto me the joy
and rejoicing of mine heart..." Jeremiah 15:16

"but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” John 4:14

"He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord."
Deuteronomy 8:3

Isaiah 55 in it's entirety, discusses the life-giving properties of God's Word.  The Word of God is the central piece that informs and transforms our lives, and enables us to continue on our journeys.  It provides us with the nourishment that we need and satisfies our thirst.  It provides an environment for growth to occur, comforts us when we are discouraged, and spurs us onward and upward in our daily walk.  The Word is the one piece of equipment, essential to the journey ahead.  We cannot survive without it.  Were we to carelessly remove it from our packs, the weight of our burden would become unbearable.  

So we've packed our food and water and centered them in our packs.  To keep our load balanced and to provide for our other needs as we continue on our journey, we add items such as shelter, clothing, and tools.  All of these play important roles.  

Shelter protects us from the elements.  It is quite literally the house that we are carrying on our backs.  It helps to shield us from harsh winds, scorching sun, cold nights, and torrents of rain.  It also helps to prevent pestilential creatures from entering our domain while we slumber.  Where do you find your refuge?  The people who surround us, protect us, fight for us, encourage us - those whom we love - they are likely to be our shelters.  They are the ones who have the greatest ability to influence us as we walk this life.  The next important question to ask is, are we building our shelters on rock or sand?  Are we surrounding ourselves with people who encourage us towards the goal set before us; people who challenge us in love, pick us up when we fall, and walk along beside us as brothers and sisters in Christ, with the Word of God in the center of their packs?  If not, then we may be carrying a lot of dead weight.  For a time, that may be okay, but we should be cautiously aware of how much dead weight we are carrying.   

Clothing is another important item that we load into the houses on our backs.  Clothing protects our fragile skin from insect attacks and the harshness of the sun.  It also helps our bodies to thermoregulate more effectively.  The clothing that we pack into our lives are things like our jobs, homes, cars - the things that help us to reach our goals.  Clothing is a little more hazardous to the overall balance of our packs.  It is extremely easy to overpack clothing.  True, clothing helps to stabilize the load by filling in spaces to keep the important things like shelter,  food, and water from moving around, but too much clothing will increase the weight we carry exponentially. Pack too much clothing and soon we'll be looking for things to unload from the pack... things that we think we can do without.  The danger here is that we may begin to throw away the important things rather than the unimportant.

Tools such as a stove, rope, flashlight, and other gadgets provide us with a means to more effectively take care of our needs.  We are carrying food and water, which in and of themselves will sustain us, but sometimes heating that food and water to make a tastier meal is most welcome.  Tools are the little things in life. When they are used to cultivate and encourage growth, they have the power to transform the ordinary into the extraordinary.  The little things in life have a tremendous ability to enrich but also to enslave us. Our packs are already full with food, water, shelter and clothing.  Our tools fill in the remaining spaces.  If we try to pack more tools than the space we have to fit them, we're going to have a problem.  Our packs are likely to be busting at the seams with the gear that we are already carrying, so when we run out of space inside, we begin to latch our tools to the outside of the pack.  When the wind blows, those tools act like a sail and throw us off balance.  When walking through thorny passages, our tools that are latched to the outside of our packs become entangled, and we must, often painfully, untangle them before we can move on.  

From time to time, all of us will carry burdens that we cannot sustain.  We will grow tired and weary; but if we keep the Word of God at the center, we can take comfort and lighten our load substantially.  In Matthew 11, Jesus says, 28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”  The food and water that the scriptures provide are all that we need to sustain us.  When you are feeling tired and weary, you need only look to the master, take off the house on your back for a moment and readjust the load.  Get rid of the excess baggage that weighs you down, and re-balance your load with the Word of God at the center.  Then, take up the Savior's yoke and burden, and follow after him.