Christian Book Reviews, Author Interviews, Excerpts

Lighten Your Load

  • Holly Wagner Author
  • 2004 14 May
Lighten Your Load

I travel regularly.  I have packed suitcases numerous times, but I still take too much.  I don't notice it so much when someone else is carrying my bag, but if I have to haul it down the stairs to my car, or up the stairs to the hotel room, I definitely feel the weight.  My goal, as I pack, is always to take just enough.  But I fail regularly!  This is because, as I am packing, I think, I might need this … and this … and that.  You never know!  Most of the time I don't need whatever it was, so it just becomes extra weight in my bag.

Of course, I can't travel without my laptop, which means I have to bring all of the plugs, attachments, and accessories.  I finally got a special backpack just for my computer and all the stuff that comes with it.  Great!  Now I have another bag to transport.  At least this one is on my back, which keeps my hands free to pull my two suitcases.  This does seem to work, but I am sure I look very burdened as I make my way through the airport.

One time, after speaking at a conference in Scotland, I was going to take a few days off and see some of the country with some friends.  We thought riding the train would be fun.  Silly me.  I had packed for a multi-day conference, which meant more than one outfit a day.  Now, as I was taking my fun days, all my stuff had to come with me.  My friends watched as I struggled with very big bags, up and down train platforms.  Believe it or not, most of the people on the platform stopped and stared.  They looked as if they had never seen anyone with that much luggage.  Maybe they hadn't!  I have overheard some of my international friends comment on the amount of luggage that Americans travel with.  Maybe we just feel more comfortable with lots of stuff!

Another time I was traveling, my suitcases were lost.  Well, they weren't lost … they went to Des Moines, and I was in Denver.  Hope they enjoyed their trip!  I did have my makeup and a toothbrush in my carry-on, so all was not lost.  I must say that it wasn't nearly as bad as I thought it would be.  A girl can go far with a clean pair of underwear and her makeup!  And I am not giving up the makeup, no matter what the minimalists say!  But I could learn to travel lighter.

The Crew Had a Great Idea

The ship Paul was on carried both passengers and cargo.  It had stopped at different ports of call and collected varied goods.  Just like those ships at different ports of call, we take on baggage throughout our journey through life.  Oftentimes, we don't notice the extra stuff until a storm hits and we have to deal with the things we have dragged on board with us.

Most of us have been betrayed at one point or another in life.  If we haven't dealt with it, we carry the baggage of bitterness.  Some people are now on their deathbeds, complaining, bitter, unforgiving.

Sometimes, in the face of crisis, we have had to shift into survival mode; we've become overprotective of ourselves and a little distant.  In an attempt to be discerning, maybe we've actually become untrusting.  In trying to allow ourselves time and space to heal, we've actually become unloving and unavailable.  What once helped us to survive is now the baggage that weighs us down – and it can actually sink our boats!

Have you ever been trying to endure your storms only to realize that you are fighting more than one battle?  One is the storm you are trying to survive, and the other is the baggage you brought along with you.  I'm talking about the trunks and carry-on bags of past hurts, insecurities, and fears.

When you are building a relationship with a new friend, you may encounter some problems that cause you to realize, Wow, she has some baggage.  I don't know if this relationship can work if she doesn’t deal with those issues.

Whether it's cleaning out the garage (yikes – that's a full-time job!), the closet (do I have to?), or the secrets of your soul, the dilemma is the same.  How can you tell what you don't need and what is the good stuff?  Have you ever asked yourself as you are doing the cleaning out, Who gave this to me?  And why do I still have it?

After you live in a home for a year or two and you decide to move, you discover, I have collected a lot of junk.  What can I throw out before I have to rent an eighteen-wheeler?  Sorting through all the "treasures" collected over the years, maybe you discover that there are things that seemed important to you for a while, but now they are just bogging you down.

Most airlines have a limit to the amount of baggage you can take with you.  If you want to take more than the allotted amount, they may charge you.  (Personally, I think that their idea of what should be allowed is way too small … but they didn't ask me!)  I know about their fees because I have had to pay them more than once!  Excess emotional baggage costs you too.  It clutters your mind.  It drains your energy.  It takes away from your ability and energy to deal with what is important.

The crew on Paul's ship had a smart idea for steadying their vessel:  they began to toss the excess overboard.  We need to do the same with our emotions.  To save ourselves – to reach the shore – we have to let go of all that is detrimental to our survival.  If you are in the middle of a treacherous storm, this is the time to lighten your load.

Can we be really honest for a moment?  Look at your past, and see how you've carried some baggage with you that you eventually had to let go of.  If you have let go of things before, it helps you to realize that you can do it again.

What baggage do you need to dump today?

Common Baggage Burdens

In a lifetime of working on my heart, and almost twenty years ministering in a local church, I have learned to recognize some common baggage that people carry with them.  Some are hidden in expensive Louis Vuitton or Tumi bags, but it is still baggage.  Let's take a look at some of the types that I see most often.

Past Hurts

Past hurts are pains you struggle with today, even though they originate from sometime in your past.  The hurt might come from a former marriage, a childhood disappointment, or a tragedy in your teens.  You just haven't been able to deal with or fix it yet.

I knew someone who was facing a storm in her dating life.  In the midst of the storm, and after getting some help, she realized that she was carrying issues from a disastrous past relationship.  A man's actions had hurt her before, so she was projecting all of those qualities onto her new guy.  Her excess cargo was about to sink the relationship.

Hurts encompasses so much.  They can take so much of our hearts.  It's as though each hurt comes with its own set of luggage.  Someone once gave me a gift of hand-painted nesting boxes.  When I opened the lid, I saw another vessel inside just like it, except littler.  And when I took the lid off of that smaller one, there was another.  You get the picture.  You can stand them in a line, side by side, and each one is just slightly smaller than the next.  Painful experiences are like that:  each carries its own luggage.

You might carry unforgiveness, and that breeds resentment.  Then we realize we have to deal with the bitterness.  Next might be envy.  You discover you are not willing to trust again.  Each piece of luggage involves another one.  If we don't lighten our load and intentionally lose some of this stuff, we can spend the rest of our lives crippled by the weight.

Jesus told us that one of the reasons He came was to heal the brokenhearted.  So many people are walking around with shattered hearts.  Sometimes we try to hide it.  We smile, we talk about the things we want to do in our lives, we chat about the latest entertainment news – but inside, we are the walking wounded.  Sometimes we feel so much older than our years on this planet, mainly because of the hurts inside us; we're dying just a little bit every day.  (And no amount of makeup can hide a broken heart.)

Hurts can be from so many sources.  They may come from failures we experienced along the way.  They may come from broken relationships with those we once loved so much.

Whatever its source, in order to get rid of the baggage of past pain, we have to be willing to forgive – sincerely, deeply – those who have hurt us.  Are you good at forgiving?  Sometimes I am.  Most of the time, I have to work at it.  I get the feeling Jesus wants us to be gold-medal winners in the forgiveness events.  Many of us are happy just to try.  But to excel in it – to actually let go of the pain – that seems like a lot to ask.  I think I'm doing pretty good just not killing someone.  :)

The bottom line is, forgiveness takes practice and determination.  Like choosing joy, it requires an act of will.  I never feel like forgiving.  I feel like smacking the person who hurt me!  But I don't want this piece of baggage to sink my ship, so I decide to forgive.  Daily.  Until the pain of the offense goes away.

Choosing forgiveness is like putting medicine on our wounds.  The process stings sometimes, but it brings fast, thorough healing.

Disappointments Hurt

The sting of disappointment, in itself, can be as devastating as any violent act.  When you have set your heart on something, not achieving it can become a poison that contaminates the very blood that flows through your heart.  For example:

  • The childless woman just passing forty years of age, who still longs for a baby.
  • The man who always wanted to start his own business, who sees that his windows of opportunity are no longer open.
  • The teenage girl hoping to be beautiful like the women in magazines, who realizes her body and facial structure are nothing like theirs.
  • The young lady with her eyes on a certain career, who fails interview after interview.

To get rid of the baggage of disappointment, we need to replace our distorted views with new vision and expectation.  It's natural for our hearts to dream, to believe and hope for wonderful experiences.  Hurt and disappointment distort our hope for the future.  When we can allow the Holy Spirit to renew our inner pictures of ourselves, our futures, and our God … we will be well on our way to carrying less baggage.

Fear Paralyzes

Another piece of baggage I see so often is fear.  Fear is such a debilitating force.  It has an amazing power – it magnifies problems.  It changes our perception of the world.  It can make everything appear worse than it really is, and so negative and hopeless.  And then it can cause our fearful view of life to become our realities.  A visiting speaker at our church once said, "Fear is the darkroom where negatives are developed."

The symbol for the dramatic arts is two masks:  one with a big smile, and one with tears.  Faith and fear are like that.  They are like twin brothers who live in the same house.  Their voices are similar.  They both look something like their parent – you.  Sometimes it's difficult to tell one from the other.  And they both create power in your life, so where we put our energy and our focus is crucial.

More and more people I have talked to over the years are controlled by fear.  People make more decisions out of fear than any other emotion.  But we have a choice.  We can feed our fear or feed our faith.  The one we decide to feed is the one that will flourish.  The energy and attention you give to one will diminish the other. 

I knew a couple working on their marriage.  This was marriage number two for her, and it was looking pretty stormy.  When they came to get help, we discovered that the root to the current storm was somewhere in her first marriage.  It had been a volatile one, with lots of yelling and fighting.  He disappeared whenever things got tough.  She came out of that marriage feeling very hurt and afraid.

When she married again, she covered up those emotions:  at first, she refused to argue or even to express an opinion.  Well, that lasted only a few months, and then, like most of our marriages, the differences surfaced and the confrontation started.  Rather than deal with any of it, she just withdrew.  She thought if she just didn't say anything, this marriage would be okay.  She didn't want this husband to disappear when they argued the way the first one had.

The thing is, this husband had no intention of disappearing.  He wanted to work on their marriage, and he didn’t understand why she wouldn't talk. When it all came to light, she began to deal with her fear.  She realized that it would sink her marriage if she held on to it.

You are painting the picture of your life.  The energy you give one – either faith or fear – will color your world and create the emotional accents of the painting you are creating.  Which color do you want to add to your masterpiece, faith or fear?

Letting go of the baggage of fear takes a determined desire to focus on the promises of God.  David said we should "magnify the LORD."  To me, the meaning of "magnify" is simple.  Make God big.  Make His promises larger than life.  Magnify them until they are larger than the problems we are facing.

His promises are inspiring.  They encourage us when we apply them to our individual circumstances.  They can drastically affect our attitudes when they become our personal sources of hope.

We magnify His promises by reading His Word, memorizing Scriptures, talking about them, and singing songs that build faith.  The real world – His world – becomes our reality more than the threat of any imposing destruction to our lives.

Insecurity Hinders

You are an important instrument in the plan of God.  He has created you out of the inspiration of His love.  He has designed you to enjoy a life of fulfillment and significance.  Yet, somehow we have allowed our experiences in life, the comments of others, and our feelings to shape our views of ourselves, and we often has so little confidence in who we are.

The writer of Hebrews told us not to "throw away [our] confidence; it will be richly rewarded."  God created us with amazing ability and potential, yet so many of us are riddled with questions like …

  • Am I important?
  • Do I have what it takes to make a difference?
  • Do others value me and my contributions?
  • Can I be accepted and respected if I am myself?

When, at the cores of our souls, these questions come to us, our insecurities have no answer to offer.  At best, we may meekly whisper, "I hope so."

A three-eyed monster lurks within this piece of baggage; his name is Insecurity, Insufficiency, and Insignificance.  He is the Goliath in our lives.  He stands tall, mocking and threatening.  His victims are obvious and numerous.

Insufficiency shouts:  "You don't have enough education, money, or talent.  You don't have enough faith.  Someone like you could possibly accomplish something, but not you.  You have almost enough skill.  If you had just a bit more experience or time or friends or talent or … Nope, let's be honest here:  you just aren't up to the challenge."

Insignificance chimes in, "If you were taller, nicer, or even stronger – maybe.  But you aren't.  And no one really needs you.  You are not that important to the team.  You are not right for the part.  You aren't enough."

Insecurity is the result.  He whispers, "Well, you did fail that other time.  It probably is true – you can't do this, either.  Your God cannot help you.  You are going to lose, and you should just accept it.  Be careful that you don’t think you are more important than you are.  It is time to surrender to what you secretly suspected all along."

David face Goliath with a far greater picture of God, faith in his heart, and a song in his mouth.  My husband has said, "The army of Israel thought Goliath was too big to fight, but David thought, He's too big to miss.'"

In this story we read that David ran "quickly" to Goliath.  When Joshua and Caleb faced giants in the promised land, they still went back and told the others that they needed to go "at once" to claim their inheritance.  It is not good to look at what you fear for too long.  Staring at the storm won't eliminate fear; you will only begin to feel insecure, thinking that you can never get through the situation.

God said I am wonderfully made.  I am His masterpiece.  I have value.  In fact, He says my value is "far above rubies or pearls."  You and I are His daughters, which makes us princesses.  It is crucial that we understand that we are the glorious, delightful, irreplaceable, irresistible, love-beyond-measure daughters of the King.  As His masterpieces, He has created us with specific strengths and abilities to do His work on the earth.  When we don't understand this, we will carry the baggage of insecurity around … and this cargo will sink us in any storm.  Rather than admitting that we are unsure of ourselves, we will attack others who are bold.  Their confidence exposes our insecurity.

I knew a couple of women – we'll call them Jenny and Gaby – whose friendship was growing … and then they encountered a storm. While she wouldn't admit it at first, Gaby was jealous of Jenny.  Most things seemed to come easy to Jenny:  achieving at school, finding a husband, having children, building a successful career.  The truth is, Jenny worked as hard as anyone to gain what she enjoyed in life – nothing had fallen out of the sky.  But to Gaby, it just didn't seem fair.  She couldn't even find a nice guy to date.  Her biological clock was ticking.  She felt unsatisfied at work, never believing she was doing a good job.  She tried to be happy about Jenny's new promotion, but Jenny could tell that it wasn't genuine, and so she began to pull away from the friendship.

When I talked to Gaby, we realized that Jenny wasn't the first friend with whom she'd had problems.  Her feelings of inadequacy and insecurity had produced jealousy again and again and she lost friends because of it.

When we lack confidence, when we are wrestling with insecurity, we will be unstable and anxious about many areas of life.  Our feelings of insecurity will destroy relationships.

To begin to erase such feelings, change the picture you now have of yourself, and begin to see yourself as the masterpiece of your Creator.  Yes, it takes work, and insecurity can be a heavy bag to throw overboard.  But if you are going to reach the shore, you must.

Have you ever encountered someone with a major attitude?  Okay, that's a dumb question.  Maybe it should be:  How many people have you seen with a bad attitude ... today?  We often walk away from such folks muttering to ourselves, "What's wrong with that guy?"  (Or "that girl" … but just not as often!) 

When someone has a bad attitude, it is so often the result of one of these pieces of baggage.  The attitude is the fruit of carrying that weight around.  Instead of joy or love or peace, we see stress, anxiety, or just being uptight.

The apostle Peter gave us some great advice when he told us to give all our worries and cares to God.  Well, David tells us to pile our troubles on God's shoulders – He'll carry our loads, He'll help us out.

What a picture.  God invites us to put our load on Him.  It's an exchange program.  We trade our load for His – and His load is light.  Good deal!

Give It Up – All of It

There is a story of a man walking along a lonely, dusty road.  He had a large and heavy bag thrown over his shoulder.  Despite this, he patiently put one foot in front of the other as he made his journey down the road.  The man looked as though his bag was pulling him into the ground as he slowly walked under its burden.

Another man happened by, riding in a horse-drawn wagon.  Stopping alongside the traveler, he asked, "Would you like a ride?"  Grateful, the weary traveler hopped up into the wagon, relieved to have someone to help him on his journey.

But to the amazement of the driver, the old passenger refused to let go of his valuable baggage.  He continued to hold the heavy load over his shoulder as he sat in the wagon.  The stranger enjoyed some relief – he didn't have to walk anymore.  But he still bore his burden.

It doesn't really make sense, does it?  But don't we do that sometimes?  We have a God who loves us and cares for us and wants to carry our load, but we are only partially willing to trust Him with the burdens of our lives.  We are not designed to carry that baggage.  It will keep us from doing what He created us to do.  It will make us vulnerable to the storms of life.  Yet often we are willing to allow Him to carry only some of the concerns of our lives.

Lose Those Encumbrances

Allow me to veer off of the ship-and-storm analogy and paint another picture.  The writer of Hebrews pleaded with us to strip off and "throw aside every encumbrance (unnecessary weight) … [and] run with patient endurance … the appointed course of the race that is set before us."  This reminds me of the Olympics.  I like watching all of the events – well, almost all of them.  I do have a hard time with boxing!  But I love the track and field competitions, seeing men and women pushing their bodies to the limits of speed and endurance.  I must say, I have never seen an Olympic runner try to compete in a race with weights strapped to him or her.  I have never seen any of them attempt to run a race with a ball and chain strapped to their leg or while carrying suitcases.  Yet, many of us are trying to get to our finish line carrying lots of bags.  Won't work.

It's time to pile our burdens on Him.  Drop the baggage – all of it – that can sink you.

Reprinted by permission of Thomas Nelson Inc., Nashville, TN., from the book entitled "When It Pours He Reigns," © 2004 by Holly Wagner.  All rights reserved.

Copying or using this material without written permission from the publisher is strictly prohibited and in direct violation of copyright law.

Holly Wagner is a popular conference speaker known for her challenging, humorous style of addressing real-life issues.  She offers powerful direction in the areas of building friendships, enhancing your marriage, and developing character.  Holly's husband Philip, is the senior pastor of the Oasis Christian Center in Los Angeles.  Together they lead a multiracial church that reaches families, entertainers, and business leaders.  Holly's dynamic women's ministry encourages women to become the person God has called them to be.  She and Philip have two children.