We carry a lot. In our hands, hearts, souls, minds…we always have baggage. While walking through the airport recently, bored and exhausted, I started trying to figure people out. Briefcase, loafers, Blackberry…small business owner. Backpack, flip flops, Nalgen bottle…college student. Shorts, laughing, holding hands…honeymoon. This game is easy!
I wonder what people are thinking of me? Do I appear to be who I really am? I am wearing jeans, flip flops, a backpack, and carrying a Sports Illustrated, Backpacker Magazine, and Rob Bell's Velvet Elvis. Then it dawns on me. It is like the times when you are hiking and you see the sunrise. Even though you knew all along that sunrises are beautiful you suddenly notice it, and it makes sense to you. Those moments when mindless clutter is replaced with abnormal clarity. In this brief moment, in the middle of an over stimulated, crowded, stressed out airport terminal, I realized that my life's passion, loves, and purpose were being carried under my arm.
I love my wife, hiking, baseball, and Jesus. I am passionate about being a good husband, enjoying a great game, seeing God in the mountains, and pursuing Jesus in all that I do and all of who I am. It struck me that I was carrying all of me in one hand. I was holding a key to everything that had power in my life. Can others see it? Would anyone notice? I might as well give you my Social Security number. Look at what I'm carrying! My life. My passions. My loves. All simplified and offered to the careful observer for deconstruction and criticism.
I put my things in the backpack. I sift through a Bill Clinton biography and a book about chronic shopping habits at the airport bookstore to throw people off.
After boarding the plane, I remove from the backpack my “life”. I began to observe passengers boarding to try and guess my traveling companion from the options coming down the aisle. Is it the one with the laptop or the one talking on the phone? I hope it is not the one that is jamming his luggage at the front overhead compartment even though he is sitting in the back because he thinks the plane will unload faster if his luggage is at the front.
Then I realize with a bit of a sinking feeling that the only traveler that can interrupt my reading, sleeping, and Sky Mall shopping time is the guy that is coming down the aisle now. Nothing in his hands, no briefcase or backpack or Burger King bag or cell phone. Nothing. He brings only himself to the chair next to me. How am I supposed to figure him out? He sees my life. But he's not playing the game.
He starts it. The conversation begins with small talk. I am an unwilling, tired, frustrated twenty something that doesn't want to talk about jobs, hometowns, or those small talk things that fill gaps in between awkward silences as I try to return to Velvet Elvis or Backpacker or Sports Illustrated only to be interrupted again. He rambles some more about life and love and all the things I don't want to talk about. A tear wells in his eye. Divorce. Kids. Lost jobs. Bankruptcy. Grace. Forgiveness. Redemption. Hope. I was wrong. He was carrying a lot. My backpack had some books and magazines but he is lugging a broken life. He was carrying it in his heart, soul, mind…and he needed to let someone know. I couldn't see it. I didn't even ask. Did I even care?
This game we play. When we try to figure someone out, compare ourselves, say the right thing, and strategize the relationship. It's ugly. It's human. We play that game. We play that stupid game everyday. Why? Baseball, hiking, Jesus, marriage…those are great things to know about me. They bind us, a community of diverse and weird people, to common passions. Those things allow us to be known. They are insights into the truth about us. Home runs, vows, the Appalachian Trail, and church affiliation do not define me. You won't know me. But you can know about me.
I have been walking around differently the last couple days. I still notice the things that help me know about people. They carry what they want me to know. They carry what they want me to think about them or ask them about. The things in their hands can define, cover up, expose, or become keys that unlock questions that perhaps have never been asked. My favorite scripture is I Thessalonians 2:8…
"We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God, but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us."
Actually, Paul's life was lived the other way. It was life first, gospel second. Know someone, be known. Seek authentic, honest friendships where people are loved because of what the gospel has done for us and because we genuinely want others to experience that joy.
Today, my challenge to you is to be observant. Look around at the people and what they carry. Ask the question. Make a connection. Help someone be known. You never know what they are carrying. They may need a hand with the load.
Contributed by Matt Burchett
Coordinator of New Student Programs