Even for an experienced backpacker, the recommendation is that your pack be no more than 20% of your body weight. Experts also recommend starting out with short trips, to increase your body’s strength and endurance, before taking a longer trip. I, however, in a stroke of brilliance, went for several days, with almost everything I owned on my back, completely out of shape. My backpack was over 60 pounds, which was about 40% of my body weight. I remember all of these details vividly, years later, for a reason. It. Was. Hard. Even with others taking some of the weight out of my pack (embarrassing), I genuinely wasn’t sure I was going to make it. There was a particularly memorable moment in the aforementioned mud pit, that I just sat and cried and begged for a helicopter (not totally sure why this wasn’t an option, but it wasn’t). I ended up having to walk a good portion of the trip barefoot because my foot was too swollen to fit in my hiking boots and by the end, my body hurt like I didn’t know it could hurt. Needless to say, this was my last backpacking trip (so far).
Why do I tell you this story, you ask? Well, you may never have tried to carry a backpack that was far too heavy across 31 creeks (rivers) in three days (I don’t blame you). However, there are weights that we carry that take a much greater toll on us than that backpack took on me. The difficulty of the backpacking trip, primarily, was that I wasn’t created to carry 60 pounds on my shoulders. Even if you’ve trained yourself to carry that weight, it’s still hard on every joint in your body from your shoulders to your feet. Just because your body can get stronger and be able to carry the weight with training, doesn’t mean it is what it was intended to do. Often, we don’t even realize the weight we’re carrying, not because we’re meant to carry it, but because we’ve grown accustomed to it!
Jesus said in Matthew 11:28-30, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
The word labor in the verse above literally means “to work until worn-out or depleted.” How many of you have ever felt like that? We all know what it is to feel like we’re carrying the weight of the world on our shoulders, but Jesus doesn’t intend for us to live that way! God said to His people in Exodus 33:14, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” Rest is not necessarily a cessation of work, but a place of safety, stability, and peace in the midst of whatever you’re going through. It’s being able to come to Jesus, regardless of what is going on, and just stop. It’s being able to cast all of your cares upon Him because He cares for you (1 Peter 5:7). It’s being able to lay down that backpack you were never intended to carry!
Jesus uses that same word “labor,” from the verse above, in Matthew 6:28-29: “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil (labor) nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.” His point? The flowers of the field don’t try to bloom. They don’t worry when it’s going to rain next or wonder whether or not someone will step on them. He goes on to say, “Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:31-33).
When you seek Him and His kingdom first, you will not strive and toil to the point of being depleted, because when you seek Him, you find Him (Matthew 7:7), and when you find Him, you find the rest your soul longs for! In John 10, Jesus calls himself the good shepherd. Think about this. No sheep lies awake at night concerned for its safety when it’s in the midst of a flock, protected by the Shepherd. You are not unprotected as a child of God. When you give Him your life, He gives you every promise of His word and His presence will remove every burden that keeps you awake at night. Just as I wasn’t made to carry a 60-pound pack through the mountains for days, we aren’t made to carry the weight of even our own lives on our shoulders. So today, I encourage you to come to Jesus, lay down your burden, and rest. You weren’t made to strive; you were made to seek!