We’ve been moving a lot lately. Some health issues for an extended family member has meant creating a small apartment in the basement of our house, and confining our stuff to smaller space in the mountains too, so that when we get home our mountain home can be a place of hospitality for family, friends, and the staff of the church I lead.
All this has been unfolding at the same time I’ve been preparing to embark on a sabbatical journey, which will begin with 40 days of hiking in the Alps with my wife, so that we can learn together - things about endurance, walking with God, hospitality, revelation that comes through suffering and beauty, guidance, and o so much more!
For this trip, we’ll be carrying everything we need, except food, on our backs. Toss in the reality that the planned hike will gain over 100,000 feet in elevation, and you begin thinking differently. The physics minded among us, who think of work in terms of “foot pounds” will come to the same conclusion I did, which is that every OUNCE of additional weight, over the course of 400 miles, will create an extra 3 tons of “foot pounds”. Lifting that extra ounce for about 20 miles of vertical elevation adds up, in other words, to a lot of work.
With this in mind, the decision making process of “letting go” began. My wife and I would pack our stuff and then stand on the scale with our packs, and groan. “Too much” we’d say, as we’d toss slippers, read articles about the “real” merits of some vitamins and decide that, in reality, we’re not sure we believe in their benefits enough to carry them uphill. Toothpaste? Extra shirt? Third pair of underwear? Everything’s up for debate. This, of course, is because carrying everything had bloody well be worth it.
The very act of shedding stuff for the hike has me thinking about other realms in a similar way:
1. Possessions in real life are work too – and as such, we should assess whether they’re worth the trouble of storing, caring, maintaining, repairing, insuring, protecting, losing, and fretting over. With the caveat that our kids are all now grown and so we really don’t much, we’ve learned something these past three weeks. We’ve been living in about 500 square feet, maybe a few feet more, and having a blast! Most of the time we can’t even remember the possessions we’ve shed well enough to miss them. We look around and say, “We have food, shelter, the clothes we ACTUALLY wear and enjoy, our health, our love, our friends….” What more do we need? It’s been fun to give stuff away to people who need it more than we do, and find our lives lighter as a result.
2. Activities – The shedding of activities began some time ago, with the selling of the piano I loved, but which was sitting more than being played. I’m at a season where that which is most life giving to me is writing, teaching, and absorbing all that can be learned by being out in creation. So I don’t play much any more. I don’t watch TV. I don’t keep up with the latest cultural trivia nearly as well as I once did. I don’t know the batting averages of my favorite baseball team as I once did. I’m no longing trying to keep with my friends at the art of cooking, because in the end, I’d rather eat a carrot than a carrot salad anyway, and bacon, by itself, brings me joy.
So the habits of coffee with God, along with a rediscovered joy of running and hiking, along with the writing, teaching, mentoring, and leading I do, plus some friendships along the way – this is enough. I’m lighter. And it feels better.
3. Emotions – I’m learning, through rereading the wisdom literature in the Bible, to shed some emotions too. Life’s so short, it turns out, that bitterness, resentment, anger, anxiety over “what if’s”, and shame filled regrets over “if only’s” are all a waste of time. I’m finding that by shedding these elements, little by little, my heart is lighter. I don’t think this happens with the snap of the finger because, like lightening our packs, every element needs to considered and inspected for its value. For example, close friends and work colleagues who speak hard truth into my life are priceless gifts. Blog comments that are rude, inciting, demeaning, when I write about sexual ethics or guns, not so much. Life’s too short, and who needs to extra weight of endless rude wrangling with people who, in the end, don’t want dialogue as much as diatribe?
Jesus declared made the remarkable statement that you “ARE” the light of the world. Light shines, all by itself, as long as its not encrusted with the darkening burdens of excess possessions, life sucking emotions, and the diffused energy of endless priorities. All three of of this light thieves, though, are at the door all the time, seeking to steal our joy and peace by inciting us to carry more and more and more. But every ounce, carried for 20, 30, 50 years? That’s many tons of foot/pounds – wasted energy.
We’ll let you know how learning to travel light goes for us. Our first trek will be Monday, and I’ll post here when I can.