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. –Matthew 11:29-30
A few weeks ago, I returned from an eight-day, 90-mile hike on the Pacific Crest Trail. The PCT runs 2600+ miles from our Mexican border into Canada.
Last year a friend, his adult children and I hiked the 70-mile section of the PCT from Snoqualmie Pass to Stevens Pass. We enjoyed it so much that we chose to hike more of the trail this year. We began hiking at a trailhead near Stehekin, at the north end of Lake Chelan, and finished at the northern terminus of the trail in Manning Park, BC.
It’s not just the distance that makes this hike such a challenge; it’s the “ups-and-downs.” On this year’s hike we gained 19,000 feet of elevation and lost 16,000 feet. It may go without saying that one of the keys to enjoying such a hike is keeping the pack light! Last year I discovered a book called “Ultra-Light Backpackin’ Tips” that became our “bible” for both this year’s and last year’s hikes. The author’s model hike is ten days with only a 25-lb. pack—including all food!
I was pleased that at the beginning of the trip my pack weighed in at about 27 lbs. Naturally, over the course of the week our packs became lighter as we ate through our food.
One of the keys to “keeping it light” is discerning what’s essential and what’s not. The “Backpackin’ Tips” author insists that “just in case” is not an acceptable category. Instead, he separates “convenience” from “life-or-death.” For example, necessary equipment includes a simple medical kit and a repair kit. I might not ever need to use these items but if I don’t have them when I need them it could be a matter of life or death.
I wonder if this is part of what Jesus is getting at. When he says, “my yoke is easy and my burden is light” he clearly doesn’t mean that followers of Jesus have it easier than others. The stories of our faith and maybe even personal experience indicate that very often quite the opposite is true! Instead, could it be that he’s calling us to take stock of what in our life is essential and what is distraction, what is “just-in-case” and what is “life-or-death?”
Obviously, none of us lives a completely “ultra-light” life! We allow ourselves to be weighed down, not just by material “stuff” but by various worries and fears. Lightening our pack load can, in fact, seem impossible!
As always, for people of faith, a key to tackling the “impossible” is not to try it solo. We are pilgrims on a journey but we have fellow pilgrims who walk with us. Together we discern what it means to take on the yoke of Christ. Together we discover what we need to learn and what he would teach us.
Notice what Jesus does and doesn’t say: He doesn’t say our journey through life will be easy; he says his yoke is easy, his burden is light. The ups and downs of the PCT, the narrow trail, the cliffs and the rocks didn’t disappear just because we were carrying light-weight packs. Likewise, our human journey remains challenging, sometimes difficult and even dangerous. And yet, how much more energy, stamina, hope, peace and even joy might be available for those who by the power and encouragement of the Holy Spirit work hard at traveling light!