Years ago, I went on a backpacking trip. This trip consisted of a week-long trek across Catalina Island, carrying a 30+ pound backpack, and traveling with a group of strangers. Though my bag was full of supplies, it was absent of mirrors, a hairbrush, makeup, shower supplies, and even my phone. The idea of this trip was to strip you of any belongings that were a distraction, in order to draw closer to Jesus. For some, the trip was challenging; for others, it was a retreat. For me, by the end of the trip, I never wanted to hike again. I could handle the no makeup and no phone rule. I could even handle the no showering and sleeping like a sardine in a tent with three strangers. What I did not handle very well, was the lack of information given. I wasn't a fan of the unknown.
See, in addition to all of the other rules on this trip, we were guided without knowing where we were going or how long it would take to get there. There were no maps. No watches. No itinerary. And no indication of where we were on the island. By the end of the third or fourth day, I hit my breaking point. We were hiking up a path, that I now know to be 7 or 8 miles of incline. It was well after lunch and the sun seemed to be getting low. I was tired. My legs hurt. And my back was giving out from the weight I carried. I managed to stay calm and quiet through the many challenges, quarreling, and discord that went on throughout the days, but by this point, I needed a little hope. I needed a little encouragement. I needed an extra push. So I quietly asked our leader "Are we almost there?" To which he responded with his usual coy and redirecting "Maybe." I pressed, "I'm really struggling and could just use a little hope. Can you tell me how much further we have?" I knew if I could tell myself "you got this Rosie, press in for another 30 minutes and you'll be okay" then I would make it. But his response this time was deflating, "I have no hope to give you. Only Jesus can give you that." Defeated. Rejected. Pushed down. I cried beneath my sunglasses, hoping no one would see. I quietly pressed forward, understanding that this person would not give me what I needed.
About three minutes later, we arrived at the top.
A rush of emotions met me as did a group of leaders and volunteers who drove to the site. These leaders were refreshed, energized, and filled with hope. One greeted me and asked if she could take my backpack. I declined, saying that our leader instructed us not to let anyone carry our bag. She asked again and again, repeatedly meeting my "no." Finally, she said "I'm trying to bless you" as she stripped the bag off my back. At that point, I lost all control and began to sob. This woman didn't know me. She had no idea that I just walked through miles of obscurity and uncertainty. She had no idea that I felt deflated by the response and leadership of my guide. She had no idea that just three weeks prior to that day, my dad passed away and I felt completely alone and without hope. Her simple act of carrying my 30-pound backpack was a direct message from God saying "I see you. I hear you. I give you hope. And I will carry this weight for you."
By the end of the trip, nothing really changed for me. I was still hurting, still grieving, and still feeling alone. And I had a newfound dislike for hiking. But my weight was a little lighter, my burden a little more lifted.
Sometimes, we expect things to be resolved instantly, with one church service, sermon, conference, or backpack exchange. We hope our circumstances, challenges, or grief will resolve quickly. The truth is, that some challenges take time. Some burdens lift at a slower pace. And some hope takes a little longer to find.
Whatever your burden is, whatever weight you might be carrying on your back, I encourage you to look towards the One in whom hope is found. Look to the One who can lift your burden and exchange it for something a little lighter. He promises to always be with you, never leave you, and give you what you need.