I'm going to tell you ONE MORE story about church camp. I promise, after this I'm tapped out. I really did not intend for this to become a running theme, but what I have to say reminded me of this so strongly that I can't ignore it. If you haven't read those other stories, you can find them here and here.
I was 9 years old, so church camp was mostly about being away from home with my best friend, playing MASH, and eating junk food at canteen. On the last full day of camp we were all asked to participate in this spiritual activity - one that didn't resonate with me until just now. We were each given a big burlap sack and told to fill it with rocks. A very good use of resources, in my opinion. This camp was in West Texas, so if there's one thing we had in abundance - it was rocks.
These rocks were meant to represent the burdens of our sins. If it's a small burden, pick up a small rock. If it's a big, heavy burden, choose a rock accordingly. If you wanted to write the name of the sin on the rock, you were encouraged to do that. Then, you had to carry your bag of rocks on your back. All day.
Again, I was 9, so I was not particularly burdened by the weight of sin. Instead, I collected rocks that I thought were pretty. I found some really cool ones, too! I happily put them in my bag, excited about my new treasures, blissfully missing the point entirely.
At the very end of the day the entire camp went for a hike donning their burlap sacks, some of which were bursting at the seams with heavy, sharp, unattractive rocks. I remember one of the counselors walking in front of me had so many rocks that his bag ripped, and his sin burdens started tumbling out. He had to carry several of them by hand the rest of the way. Then, just as we were getting properly worn out, we entered a clearing that had a cross planted in the middle. The entire camp circled up around the cross, where we had a devotional. At the end we were told, when we felt ready, to dump out our sins at the foot of the cross. We didn't have to carry them anymore.
My very first thought was, "Do I HAVE to?". I liked the rocks I'd picked out. I'd made plans. I had a rock collection to add them to when I got home. I had no desire to just dump them back out on the West Texas ground.
All of the other people in the circle eventually approached the cross, dumped out their bags, and left behind their heavy burdens. They looked relieved as they walked away, one by one, making their way back to camp. I was just scared someone would catch me keeping my rocks. I never put them down.
That was 9 year old me. Unfortunately, 27 year old me isn't much different. During my Great Depression I made so many poor, sinful, destructive choices. I would like to say that there were so many that I can't keep track of them all, but that's not true. There were so many that I can't stop recalling them. The second I manage to clear my mind of one, another appears in the spotlight to take it's place.
I've spent almost a year collecting rocks - heavy, pointy, dirty, ugly, burdensome rocks that I picked up in the wasteland of Depression and Anxiety. Now I walk around with a bag of rocks on my back, a few bags in each hand, a couple tied to my ankle, and one hanging around my neck. They make it impossible for me to stand up straight, be productive, move forward, or lift my head.
The solution seems obvious: I should put them down. I was told as early as 9 about the invitation of the cross. It's a place to dump your heavy sins, leave them behind you for good, and walk away unburdened and clean. I believe that. Don't I?
In the last couple of weeks I have latched onto two songs that feel like they were written about me, straight from my heart. I think it's no coincidence that both songs are entitled "Heavy". That's how I feel right now. I feel heavy. These words reflect so accurately what I'm experiencing that I believe God sent them to me to provide me with some sort of guidance.
Are you feeling sad cause you did a bad thing?
Leave what's heavy
What's heavy behind
Are you feeling fearful brother?
Are you feeling fearful sister?
Only way to lose that fearful feeling
Replace it with love that's healing
Heavy - Birdtalker
I'm holding on
Why is everything so heavy?
To so much more than I can carry
I keep dragging around what's bringing me down
If I just let go, I'd be set free
Heavy - Linkin Park
Perhaps to the unburdened, these words don't mean much. To me these words feel tangible and alive with meaning. I think it speaks to the importance and truth of these words that one of the people who contributed to the lyrics, Chester Bennington, has since committed suicide. People aren't built to walk through life so burdened. It's unsustainable. Eventually the weight we drag behind us causes us to stop entirely, rendering us simply unable to keep going.
Let's go back to the cross.
I grew up hearing about the power of the cross and the forgiveness of sins. I can quote Romans 8:1, 1 John 1:9, and Psalm 103:12. I believe Jesus when he invites the weary and heavy laden to come to him. And still I'm dawdling around the perimeter of the cross, dragging around more weight than I can reasonably carry, wishing to be set free but refusing to let go.
This brings me back to the church camp story. The camp speaker didn't just point us to the middle of the circle and expect that to be that. He told us when we were ready, we could approach the cross and unburden ourselves. It's strange, but no one approached immediately. Many of the older campers and adults who seemed to have the fullest bags stood around for a long time before they moved. It actually took quite a while for the process to be over and for everyone to walk away. I remember I got bored waiting. Why would someone who's been carrying around a bag of rocks NOT be ready to put it down at the first opportunity?
I think I'm afraid that if I approach the cross in an attempt to leave what's heavy behind, I'll be falling for some trick. Sorry, there's a three bag limit. The rest you'll have to take with you when you go. And these two here aren't eligible for drop off. Which of these would you like around your neck for the rest of your life? I'm terrified that if I stop dragging around what's bringing me down, the circle of people around me will close in and stone me to death with the ammunition at my feet.
Thankfully, I believe that Christ is patient with us. He'll calmly wait at the foot of the cross and watch the broken pace back and forth trying to make the choice to step forward. He'll listen to the same confession for the thousandth time, even though any more than once is redundant. He'll extend his hand over and over again, offering to take our bags. Right now I'm just not ready - but I have faith that I will be.