10 August, 2007

Excess Baggage: $127.00

It’s pretty cool how 12,700 pennies can be carried around and exchanged quite conveniently using a thin slab of plastic and a piece of paper labeled "credit card receipt."
That’s efficiency right there. I have to say right up front that the rest of this post is just about emotional, touchy-feely stuff and the only part efficiency plays is within an abstract spiritual metaphor. And maybe the fact that I didn’t have to write this all out on paper by hand.

Taylor and I were talking last summer about the first year and speculating about the year ahead of us, and the differences between them, and the good things that we’d miss, and the unhealthy things that we wouldn’t. Looking concerned, she said something to the effect of, “Am I going to have this much baggage from every year of ministry? I’ve only gotten through one so far…”

It’s a frightening thought, but one that probably describes the truth more than I’d care to admit. Maybe that’s why I kept finding myself thinking of this year as some sort of final test. And why I didn’t feel comfortable making any long-term commitments or life plans but just wanted to focus on making it through the year. And why the first month or so I felt somewhat depressed and unable to convince myself to dive full-force into things that had already started, but would have rather gone someplace remote and uninhabited to hibernate for 2 or 4 or 7 weeks.

Looking back, I think the answer to Taylor’s worried question is, Yes, there’s always baggage. And my categorization of this year as a "final" test was wishful thinking. Probably more like a first mid-term, freshman year. Of high school. But I digress.

What is emotional baggage, anyway? Isn’t it just pain and suffering that is converted into scars and fears and habits of self-defense over time? This conversion process is like converting some set amount of value into, say, gold bars. Or bronze or lead, even. Gold bars are great, and you can’t deny that they add up to a lot of money. But they’re not the most convenient or logical way to carry currency. Even less so would be large chunks of non-precious metal. Similarly, our emotional baggage often comes from real and legitimate trauma or distress, and represents something significant (if unwieldy). In all of this, many wise people seem to think that there can be value in pain and suffering. We can learn things through pain, we can hardly avoid being changed by suffering, and hardship makes us stronger as we learn to face resistance. Pain, suffering, and hardship are often the most effective teachers of humility, integrity, endurance, perseverance, mercy, and compassion. I’m sure there are other benefits, too.

How can I take the bits of pain, suffering, and hardship that I have experienced (and will experience) in my lifetime and not allow the wounds and memories to scar and warp me into a hardened, fearful, small, closed, selfish person? How can the raw events and feelings be somehow transformed into value, growth, wisdom, and character? It probably has something to do with refinement, and sanctification, and redemption. I know it has everything to do with Christ and love, but how it all works is something of a mystery.

Pain and suffering hardly ever come from the mere act of “doing ministry,” whatever that means. They are facts of life, more specifically they are products of living life with other people. This has caused me to spend a lot of time thinking about relationships and people and what it means to love as Christ has called us to, but I still haven’t figured it out yet. Let me know if you have.


michelle said...

Thank you for writing this your words are always an inspiration even when they are mere truths spoken in the light of adversity.

Matt Mikalatos said...

I would just like to say that as you get older and more experienced you can get much nicer bags. :)

lj said...

geez alexis. :). i feel like i go through this thought process over and over again. i feel like every day is a battle to resist my initial reaction to being sinned against--sin (in the form of cynicism and bitterness and hardness of heart and refusing to hope). there are only a few things i know: 1) God has graciously protected my heart from becoming much harder than i already feel it is at times 2) during what i like to call my "season of hell" (ie- after i broke up with charles), i definitely feared that baggage. there is no doubt that there is some. but there is no doubt that Jesus healed me and protected me from being someone who could never trust, love, or allow herself to be known. it is a mystery. all i know is that i prayed a lot that Jesus wouldn't let me become that person...and that instead, He would go deep and heal and bring wholeness to my being that had been shattered into indistinguishable pieces.

that's all i know. and it's still a battle.