My son has a backpack. It is an old, weather-beaten backpack that has been kicking around our house forever. I think it was my backpack once. It might be almost as old as my son.
This backpack bears a great many strange burdens over the course of a given week. Books, clothes, playing cards (he likes to do card tricks), miscellaneous scrunched up permissions forms that his parents were supposed to see two weeks ago, rocks, guitar picks, a (usually half-open) lunch container spilling out its uneaten contents, sweaty sports uniforms, dirt, and an assortment of the other inevitable accretions of a preteen, male life. Sometimes I have to open the backpack to retrieve something, but I try to do this as infrequently as possible. Sticking my hand into this backpack is a very frightening thing.
Yesterday I discovered the backpack conveniently located right at the top of the stairs, perfectly poised for stumbling and neck-breaking (or at least coffee-spilling). So I picked up the backpack in order to relocate it somewhere more appropriate. Like on the pillow of my son’s bed, for example, or blocking the entrance to his room. I am discreet like that. But when I tried to pick it up, the backpack wouldn’t move. It was like it was encased in cement. It felt like my shoulder would dislocate before the backpack would be dislodged from its stubborn perch. I abandoned my quest and summoned my son to give an account of his backpack.
“What is in this backpack?” I demanded to know. “It weighs like three hundred pounds!!” My son looked at me blankly, and began, with theatrical resignation and determined lethargy, to open the zipper. “I don’t know… stuff?” I peered inside and noticed, along with the usual menagerie, a number of heavy textbooks and a binder that looked like it was about to explode. “Wow, you have a lot of homework this weekend!” I said. Another blank look. “No. I don’t have any.” Apparently the presence of no less than four textbooks and what seemed to be every piece of paper that had crossed his desk over the past nine months in his backpack did not constitute sufficient evidence for his father to surmise that he might have homework.
“Well then why is your backpack so full?! Why did you bring all of these books and binders home?” I bewilderedly queried. Yet another uncomprehending blank expression crossed his face. “I dunno. Class was done and I had all these books. I didn’t feel like opening the lock on my locker, I guess.” The blank expression had now migrated from his face to mine. “Soooo, instead of opening up your locker and putting your books in there for the weekend, you decided to stuff them all into your backpack, and carry them all the way home?”
We stood there for a few seconds in the misty fog of mutual incomprehension, puzzling over the presence of this curious artifact of such shadowy provenance at the top of the stairs.
He scratched his head. “Um, yeah, I guess so.” “Wasn’t it a little heavy?” I asked, incredulously. “Yeah,” he responded. “Really heavy.” [Strained silence] “Do you think maybe you could have left all these heavy books in your locker over the weekend?” I hesitantly offered. The now familiar blank expression had returned to its customary resting place on my son’s face. “No. I didn’t feel like opening my lock.”
The parameters of logic having thus been exhausted, my son dragged his backpack to his room. The foundations of the house trembled, the floorboards heaved and groaned, and his father remained, at the top of the stairs, scratching his head, pondering the mysteries of the adolescent mind.
The day rolled on and I thought about my son and his backpack. I thought about him trudging down the streets with this enormous, unnecessary weight on his back. I thought about his red face and sweaty back.
And I thought about Jesus’ words to weary and weighed down people.
Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
I thought of the many ways in which we are all like a young boy wandering around with a backpack full of burdens. Some, we are given by others, some we choose ourselves, some are combination of the two. Many, we don’t know what to do with. So we stuff them in the backpack and we carry them around, wherever we go. Inherited expectations, assumptions about what others think, guilt, loneliness, fear, anger, confusion, doubt, self-loathing, pride… We even import burdens from the backs of others, and (try to) carry them on their behalf. Our backpacks are bursting at the seams. The zipper stretches and strains to hold everything in as we sweat and we stumble down the street.
And Jesus meets our sweaty, stumbling selves on the way and offers us simple words of freedom.
Come. Take. Learn. I will give you rest.