In a recent Facebook Live, one of my favorite motivators, Chrystal Evans Hurst describes her struggle while recovering from a bout in the hospital. She tells of her difficulty in maneuvering up and down the stairs on one foot. Still weak from her illness, every step was hard, not only because of her condition, but also because she carried a backpack. A week after struggling daily with a backpack that became increasingly heavy–because she continued adding items to it–she discovered three things: (1) the trek up and down the stairs was still hard (2) she was able to do more this week than she was last week and (3) in the process she had gained some muscles she wasn’t expecting.
Chrystal unpacks the lessons in her “backpack victory,” but I was thinking a little more about the backpack itself. I mean, don’t we all carry a backpack? We call it baggage.
We toss stuff in those bags—both good and bad—and go on. We sling the past over our shoulders, as if doing so will be enough to put it behind us. But, the funny thing about past experiences is they don’t always stay back there. Even if we’ve tossed them, they tend to linger. Even when we don’t realize that we’re toting around hurt, anger or unresolved issues, they inform our actions. We use them as currency: the criticism of our peers that we pocketed, comes into play later when it’s time to trust again. The disapproval of our teachers is logged and we check that account before cashing in on any major academic investments. Our parents’ expectations? It’s like our favorite magazine that comes every month, but we just can’t throw it away! We toss it in the bag and it gets heavier.
Daily we add something to our backpack—experiences get added in—good or bad–and accumulate like the artifacts collecting dust in our basements. They are seen, but forgotten; there, but we’re unaware of the effects they have on our lives. We refuse to get rid of them, yet we don’t actually deal with them. They have meaning, but we don’t fully grasp what it is.
We tend to think of baggage as a bad thing, but is it?
In saying that we should think about the backpack, I don’t mean that we should think negatively about it. I mean we should think about it. The problem with baggage is that we don’t think about it! We drag it around with us and allow it to inform our actions without ever examining it or doing anything intentional with it. Maybe we should look at what’s in our backpack. What is this baggage that you’re carrying around?
It may be that we are burdened by guilt or unresolved issues from the past because we’ve chosen to carry unexamined bags. Anyone who’s ever carried a big purse knows how easy it is to toss items in with the intention of “looking at it later,” but “later” never comes!
Yet, if you did look, you might find that there are some good things in your bag. There might be some things in there that you can use! Have you had some tough times– some pain and some hurt? If you look closely, what else do you find? Perhaps strength gained from the difficulty? Wisdom gained from the foolish choice? Character developed from the hurt?
Part of Chrystal’s “backpack victory” was the unintended muscle she gained from the struggle she had going up and down each step. I don’t know if she ever looked at everything she tossed in her bag, but the extra weight was an unexpected blessing! Likewise, our baggage can either be a burden that weighs us down or a weight that builds our physical and spiritual muscle! It can also be the source from which we draw our greatest inspiration–to write, to create, to dream and to live! It really comes down to perspective and what you see when you look in the bag!
So, go ahead–look.
Special thanks to Andrew Neel on Unsplash for Cover photo art.