I used to camp and backpack in the wilds of Virginia and West Virginia. Generally, it was just for a weekend – maybe two or three days – along with a group of friends. We would carry everything in/out. I remember having fun, enjoying it all, but I always felt like I needed a day to recover. Perhaps it was the infrequency of carrying a load, the hiking, and all that goes with the adventure, but come Monday, there was always a stiffness about my neck, arms, shoulders, upper back and all the rest that is connected to those parts. I could still feel the aftereffects of the pack’s burden. “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.” It sounded like the perfect scripture for the post-camping Monday mornings.
As a group we expanded our vision and headed to the Rockies for the “real camping.” Our first adventure was in the mountains north of Steamboat Springs. We hired a local guide, Kevin. I remember being at the trailhead, backpack up and ready to go, and Kevin looking at me and the way I was wearing the pack. He pointedly said, “Are you serious….? Take that pack off.” You know all those straps and buckles – they have a purpose. Kevin began to teach me about the way to adjust the pack, to make the load – not any less heavy – but less burdensome. “Try this for a few miles.” A few miles later we stopped. I would assess things, make choices, make some adjustments, and carry on. All along the way, there was a tweak here and there, and at the end of the day-long trek I was relatively relaxed, appropriately tired, but not where near as worn out as other trips.
Over the seasons, our camping trips got longer; two days became five became a week, became two weeks. We hiked the Colorado 10th Mt Division Trail (summer and winter), the Wyoming Wind River Range, and cross-country skied across Yellowstone in Winter. Sometimes we also packed in rock-climbing gear. They were amazing trips in the wide-open spaces of God’s country; yoked to 75+ pound packs, and yet unburdened and free – with an open trail before us for the journey.
Especially on the Yellowstone trip, when I think back on that adventure, it was a lesson for life. On that trip, we had extra gear and rations, sleds that needed to be pulled, in addition to our packs. A week plus of dead-of-winter camping requires preparation and contingency. I especially remember the sleds. There was always someone whose role was to lead and plough through the fresh snow on their cross-country skis. Then two people followed to widen the trail. Then came two people, yoked together, pulling the sleds. And in the back of the line were several people “taking a break” so to speak, enjoying the smooth path and the incredible scenery. As loaded down as we were, we were still burdened and free. It was an amazing feeling.
“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.” Now I understood that it was Scripture for the journey itself. The lessons learned were knowing you was your teacher and knowing to whom you were yoked. I was so fortunate to have Kevin as our guide and a great group of friends for the journey.
Maybe the bigger lesson is that no matter what you do in life, there will be some part of you that is joined, is yoked, to commitments, choices, and decisions. You learn from others, you adjust, you move on to journey’s end. But there is always the one teacher to whom you go.
Think of the range of those commitments: family, marriage, business, school, friendships – there is so little that we truly do alone. And for each and all these endeavors, who is the teacher? To whom have you yoked yourself? Take my yoke upon you and learn from me.
Over the years I have asked people what that passage means. Many times, the answer is some version of learn to be nice, kind, compassionate, to love one another and to forgive…and other attributes – all of which are great. But there is not any enduring culture which does not basically teach those same things. The key word is “enduring.” While the attributes might be different and the emphasis placed on different elements, enduring cultures seek to instill goodness into all the people of the culture.
Then what is the difference between being a good person and a believing Christian? I think it is a four-part answer
- Christianity has a very direct and specific answer to the “who” in “learn from me.” Jesus Christ.
- Christ is liberating – freeing us with a truth that cuts before it heals: that sin and iniquity is real; a deadly, destructive force against which I am helpless and powerless — apart from the death and resurrection of Jesus. “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.” The Word has been said, the Word came to live among us as one of us, the Word suffered and gave his life for us that we might be saved. That we might be free. And so… beyond nice, compassionate, kind and more… we are freed from sin and its wages death. Freed to fully live.
- Being a Christian gives me hope. Hope for this life and for the life to come. Being a Christian assures me that I am known and loved by a generous, self-giving God. Being a Christian means that I’m not alone when I suffer; I’m accompanied by Jesus, who has experienced pain, loss, betrayal, and death. Being a Christian reminds me that I live in a created world — a world that is sacred and meaningful, shot through with God’s artistry. Being a Christian gives me a distinct sense of purpose and vocation — to do justice, and love mercy, and practice humility before God and other people.
- It never done alone – always with Christ – always in community. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me.
This Christian life is life our group heading out west for the real camping. We chose and committed to our guide. We move ahead on the trail as a community – sometimes
Like you, I must remind myself to be, to fully live as a Christian. Christian life is life that backpack. Remember all those straps and buckles, those teachings and commandments – they have a purpose. Christ and Scripture teach us about the way to adjust the pack, to make the load – not any less heavy – but less burdensome. “Try this for a few miles.” Try this for a few months. Later, assess things, make choices, make some adjustments, and carry on. All along the way, make a tweak here and there, and at the end of the life-long trek we will be so much more than just a good person.
What adjustments do each of us need to make? Let us learn from Jesus by letting him be the Teacher, the guide for the journey of this life. Whether our role is to lead and plough, follow and widen the trail, part of the team that pulls the sled, or in the back of the line enjoying it all.
Learn, make the adjustments, be more than a good person. Be like Christ for others.