Baggage on the Healing Journey
Ever had to repack your suitcase at the airport because it was over the weight limit?
I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve had to rearrange things between my suitcase and carry-on and even throw things away at the ticket counter more times than I’d like to admit.
In the same way, we sometimes take unnecessary things on our healing journey. I accepted Christ when I was in college, but because of painful things in my past I brought lots of baggage along with me. Actually, what I carried was more like cargo.
Childhood experiences, good and bad, can shape us in profound ways.
Broken relationships with anyone that we longed for approval and love from, personal losses, decisions we’ve made and circumstances we’ve been thrust into can cause us to carry various types of baggage into our adulthood. Emotional baggage can stem from neglect and abuse, as well as from mistakes and present losses.
Neglect is caused by the absence of good things we should all receive to provide emotional stability.
This kind of trauma occurs when a child is not cherished and understood.
- lack of non-sexual physical affection,
- age-inappropriate limitations and expectations,
- and physical deprivations of food, shelter, clothing, and medical care.
Baggage must be dealt with before we can move forward.
Many people find it hard to recognize neglect as the cause of their depression, fear, and isolation. They end up feeling confused about why they have a negative self-esteem, why they are afraid to trust others, and why they struggle with perfectionism. Baggage like this must be dealt with before they are able to move forward in their healing journey.
- recognizing the injury,
- grieving the loss,
- receiving life-giving truth,
- and developing an intimate relationship with a few safe people and the only One who can fill the gaps formed by neglect.
Trauma from abuse.
Another type of trauma is caused by abuse. Childhood abuse includes abandonment by a parent or guardian; being hurt by bullies and mean girls; experiencing physical, emotional, or sexual abuse; and witnessing abuse done to others.
Far too many also experience emotional, physical, and sexual abuse in adolescence and adulthood. As I have shared my story with others, my greatest surprise has been the number of women who have told me they were sexually assaulted by someone they know. Most of them feel responsible in some way because they didn’t scream for help or report the incident for what it was: sexual assault.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, approximately two thirds of rapes are committed by someone known to the victim and 60 percent of sexual assaults are not reported to the police.
Sadly, the victims carry great shame.
Past trauma is not always the cause of present burdens.
Present losses such as rejection, illness, the loss of a spouse or loved one, and even the loss of a dream can be just as damaging as trauma suffered in childhood. Nothing that steals your joy is insignificant. If it is not dealt with it can create harmful baggage that causes negative emotions.
The baggage of present and past mistakes can be as damaging as neglect and abuse. All of us have made mistakes both before and after we began our journey with Christ. When we ignore and try to pretend that these sinful choices didn’t happen, we are left with heavy baggage that weighs us down and keeps us from moving forward. Unloading this weight by bringing it into the light is freeing. With His nail-scarred hands of mercy, Jesus will lead us on the pathway where we can find healing.
Like many people, I lived a life of duplicity, trying to hide my true self from others.
I believed that people wouldn’t like me if they knew what had been done to me and what I had done in response, so I hid it in the darkness. While working through my pain, I cried tears for the bad things done to me and for the bad things I did as a result. It was horrifying and humbling to admit the things I’d done in secret. But I knew that the only way healing could come was if I bowed all of my pain before the Holy One and allowed Him to heal me from the inside out (James 4:9).
Recognizing harmful baggage and disposing of it is difficult, but it cannot be ignored.
Inner healing is God’s work but we must confess and confront our weaknesses and wounds, even though it is painful. He is the only One who can put your broken heart and fractured soul back together the way it was intended to be.
Roadblocks that keep us from eliminating baggage.
Unfortunately, there are many roadblocks that keep us from eliminating heavy baggage. The most obvious one is the roadblock of fear. It is human nature to protect our hearts from anything that hurts, so we end up suppressing painful memories. In the midst of my pain, I felt that I needed to be strong and independent. The emotions that accompanied the pain made me feel weak and fearful, so I avoided them at all costs. I was afraid that I would never be able to stop crying if I opened up this baggage.
The importance of grieving.
Some people do not understand the importance of grieving, so they teach their children that crying is wrong. This is another roadblock to grieving: the roadblock of misunderstanding. My mother made me feel ashamed if I cried when I was wounded and taught me that I should never allow anyone to know that I was weak. As a result, I learned to hide my tears at a young age.
Some Christians also stumble on this roadblock because they believe that grieving is sinful. They argue that mourning losses requires putting too much focus on self, using Philippians 3:13-14 as justification. When you look at these verses in context, it’s clear that Paul’s concern was not about putting painful things in the past. Instead, he wanted to put behind him everything he had achieved by his own power, recognizing harmful beliefs and actions that needed to change and replacing them with the truth. He had a clear understanding of his unhealthy baggage and what he needed to do to get rid of it.
Like Paul, we too need to resolve our wounds in order to put them in the past and move forward. An emotional wound can be like a festering abscess deeply embedded beneath the skin’s surface. The healing process must take place from the inside out so that all of the painful infection can be taken care of. In the same way, emotional healing can occur only when we invite God to heal our wounds from the inside out.
Are you weary from carrying this extra weight?
If you are, I have good news. Jesus said,
“Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).
I love this incredible invitation from our Beloved.
It is for all of us who are being crushed under the heavy weight of baggage. Although Jesus was actually speaking about the burden of an intricate religious system in these verses, His promise is also true for any burden that we may be carrying. In fact, the baggage of a broken relationship can be even more exhausting than trying to keep the law of the Pharisees. Just imagine! Our Beloved is offering to help you unpack all baggage, including the burden of forgiveness.
If you are carrying this heavy load because of a hurtful mother, father, spouse or friend and feel constant guilt about your broken relationship, there is hope. Jesus has extended an invitation for you to come to Him and find real rest. Jesus, our Good Shepherd, will help you get rid of the baggage of forgiveness, but first you must follow Him to Calvary.