April 27, 2019
During August of 2016 I joined three dear friends on a four day, three night backpacking trip in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area of Idaho.
I am a backpacking rookie. I don’t own a backpack or a lightweight stove. I’ve gone on two previous backpacking trips—one with a church group when I was in the 7th grade (we were snowed in and rescued)—and the second backpack trip occurred when I was 24 or 25 years old and working at the Palo Alto VA. Neither of these adventures were very positive.
But, this trip went much better due in large part to the guidance and mentoring of Mike and Kari—two dear friends who initiated and organized this backpack adventure. Mike and Kari planned the entire trip and they purchased all of the necessary items. They just asked me to bring my clothes and toiletries. How could it be so simple!?
On Sunday night, we laid our items on the living room floor and the kitchen table and we loaded our backpacks. Mike and Kari were encouraging and supportive—-but in hindsight—-they did not offer much packing direction to me—-the wilderness novice.
So, with basically with no rhyme or reason, plan or method, I pushed and shoved item after item into my pack. It all seemed to fit—-so I closed the zippers and cinched the lid—and thought that I was in good shape.
Given my limited backcountry experience it has always seemed to me that backpacking basically involves taking items from your dresser, the kitchen, and the workbench and placing them on your back. Along the trail, the sights and the vistas might be amazing—but all the while one is schlepping a significant load. Each person is basically carrying a burden (a yoke of sorts).
During that first day on the trail my pack was digging into my hips and the shoulder straps were not riding well. My pack was listing to the left—-a bit like a tree long bent by a howling wind. As we walked, Mike commented that my pack seemed to be teetering to the left—-the pack and my torso seemed to be out of balance. I was reminded why I had never been drawn to backpacking and carrying a load.
At the end of that first day of hiking, as we set down our packs, Mike uttered an unwanted suggestion. “Rich—-I think you should empty your pack. Take everything out and set it on the ground. Item by item I’ll help you get organized. As we put these items back in your pack we’ll do it thoughtfully. The items that you wanted to easily get to today—-we’ll put those in these zippered outside pockets. The heavy items—-like the tent and the food items—-we’ll center those in the pack so they are positioned against your spine and centered between your hips. So go ahead—-empty your pack.”
Empty my pack—-what was he talking about? I was tired and worn out. I wanted to soak my feet in the creek, have some freeze-dried dinner, and get into my sleeping bag. But, since I also wanted to be a cooperative guest I followed Mike’s direction and emptied my pack.
Mike returned a few minutes later and we began to carefully and strategically place (and secure) each item in the pack. We thoughtfully chose where each item would be located given its weight, size, and whether or not I might want get to that item as we hiked the next day. The end process was that all of these items again fit into my pack—but now they were fitted to the pack—-and now the contents of the pack were also fitted to me.
But, we were not done—one more series of adjustments was needed. Mike had me put on the pack and then he began adjusting the hip belt, shoulder straps, and the sternum strap. He was fitting the pack to the contours of my hips, back, shoulders, and chest. It was like getting fitted for a new business suit.
Now the contents of the pack were thoughtfully and wisely positioned and balanced. And the pack itself was fitted to me.
For the next 4 days on the trail my pack was still heavy—-it still had weight—-but it was not a burden. It did not weigh me down. I knew that I was still carrying forty pounds—-but now this load was fitted to me. The load was not light, but it was a load that was “tailored” to me.
This process of backpacking and working with my pack got me thinking about what the Bible says about burdens and yokes.
These passages came to mind.
- Matt 11:28-30. Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
- Ps 55:22. Cast your burden on the Lord, and He will sustain you; He will never permit the righteous to be moved.
- Gal 6:2. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
- I Pet 5:6-7. Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time He may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on Him, for He cares for you.
- Matt 23:2-4 The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy loads and put them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.
From my experience in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area and pondering over these passages of Scripture—these observations that come to mind.
- The backpack must be fitted to the person. It must fit well around the hips, shoulders, and sternum. One size does not fit all. The burden and yoke that Christ has for us—must be made for us—it must be a burden, role, or responsibility that He has tailored to us. We must not assume that the burden or yoke of another is intended for us. We must ask ourselves, “What is the burden, load, or yoke that God has for me—and how might He be intending to fit and adjust this load to me—-and how might He be intending to use this load in my life—-for my good and for His glory?”
- The backpack must be filled with only essential items. We must not load ourselves down with extraneous and non-critical items. Whatever we put (and whatever God puts) in our pack—-we’re gonna carry it. So it’s important to ask the Lord—what is it that You want me to carry? And how might You use this item/person/concern/issue to change me and to minister through me?
- The pack must be packed in a thoughtful, wise, and useful way. On the first day of our adventure my backpack was organized in a manner that was not useful—-and as we began hiking I did not even know that this was a problem. I did not know the difference between a well-organized pack and a disorganized pack. It was the process of trying to get to needed items (that were stuffed in the bottom of the pack) that demonstrated to me that I had much to learn. So, with each day as I packed and unpacked my backpack this process brought me to more clearly understand what items I needed to have near at hand and what items could be put to the bottom of the pack. I was learning to strategically prioritize and value what was most important.
- In packing my backpack I also needed balance. On the first day of our trek my pack listed to the left because the weighty items were not placed near the vertical center of the pack—-they weren’t close to my spine. Consequently—my load felt heavier than necessary. My load did not feel light—-I felt the strain on my hips and shoulders. The weight (burden, yoke) would have been much more manageable (it would have fit me better) if the weight had been better “fitted” to me and if the weight had been wisely and thoughtfully balanced.
- Midway through the backpacking adventure another person in the group (Donny) offered to carry the tent. In exchange I carried a larger portion of our food. This was a gracious offer—and I appreciated the relief. To have a slightly lighter load was a great help. (Gal. 6:2—bearing one another’s burdens)
I have not been backpacking since this adventure with these dear souls. But, I have been regularly reminded of the truth that God has roles, responsibilities, and burdens for me to bear. God has a yoke that is fitted to me. And, by the Spirit, He intends to carry these loads with me. He intends that the weight will strengthen and mature me in Him. And I know that if the burden is not from Him—-and if the yoke is not fitted to me by Him that I will not be able carry it well—for I will not be carrying it in Him.