By Marjorie George
When I was a girl, we played a game called “Grandma’s Trunk.” It went like this: we all sat in a circle and the first girl said, “I packed my grandmother’s trunk and into it I put an apple.” The second girl said, “I packed my grandmother’s trunk and into it I put an apple and a ball.” The third girl said, “I packed my grandmother’s trunk and into it I put an apple, a ball, and a cat.” You see the alphabetical progression here.
The game ended when someone couldn’t remember everything that had been packed into the trunk before it got to her. It was a sweet game in a time of innocence; must have been at Girl Scouts we were playing.
So now I am all grown up and the journey is no longer Grandmother’s — it is mine. Instead of a trunk, I find that I have loaded up a backpack. Only it’s not filled with sweetness and innocence – it’s filled with a load of rocks with names like anger, bitterness, criticism (given and received), and despair.
I am aware that Jesus is with me on this journey, and every once in a while he leans over and says to me, “You don’t have to carry that, you know.” And I say, “Yeah, I know.” But I keep on carrying it.
“You can put that down, you know.”
“Yeah, I know.”
But I don’t put it down.
Oh, how we love our burdens. How quick we are to take offense at the other and shove a little woundedness into our backpack. How easily does a conversation turn from discussion to heated argument, leaving us with a handful of anger. Add it to the backpack. How little it takes to turn a few missteps into despair of ever making forward progress. Shove that into the backpack, too. Stones, rocks, boulders – it just keeps getting heavier.
Sometimes we dwell on that part of our theology that calls us to be burden-bearers. A popular term has arisen for it in recent years: wounded healers. How proudly we wear our scars, tell our stories of misery, and call it “sharing.” And it is true that often the way to Christ is through dark and lonely and painful places. But sometimes we secretly hold a slight contempt for those who have not suffered sufficiently to be part of the redeemed.
The burden, however, is not that I have suffered but that I refuse to move beyond the suffering that exists no longer in reality but only in my mind. I want to need the medicine long after I am healed. Some insidious voice tells me that I don’t get to put down the backpack until I have carried it long enough to have permanent curvature of the spine so I will never forget how much it hurt once.
There is no such thing as “cheap grace” we say. Really? ‘Cause I thought grace was free. Perhaps the most honest prayer we can pray is from the Ash Wednesday liturgy: “Forgive us for our failure to commend the faith that is in us” (Book of Common Prayer pg 268).
So I pick up the backpack and trudge on down the road of my spiritual journey, forgetting that when Christ raised Lazarus, the first thing he told him to do was to take off the grave cloths (Jn 11:44).
I need to repack. If I must carry a backpack, let me carry one that overflows with grace, with the sure and certain knowledge that I really don’t need to suffer long enough in order to be good enough. Let me recognize, with writer Henri Nouwen, that I can “Gently push aside and silence the many voices that question my goodness and trust that I will hear the voice of blessing,“ (from Life of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular World). Let me know that I am beloved of God, and that what God wishes for me is a journey full of joy, overflowing with expectation, guided by hope, and empty of bogus backpacks.
Marjorie George is editor of Reflections magazine and ReflectionsOnline. Reach her at email@example.com.