Baggage Claim


The following illustration comes from Craig Barnes, longtime pastor of National Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C. One day he stood at the baggage claim area in an airport, watching the bags tumble off the conveyor belt and onto the carousel one by one. As he pondered the matter, that unending parade of bags seemed to speak of the problems that people face. Each bag represented a burden or an issue that people pick up and carry with them on their journey through life. People rarely come to see a pastor with nothing but good news. The people who are basically content and happy generally don’t make appointments. Most of the time people come to see a pastor (or a counselor or a therapist or a trusted friend) because something in life isn’t working right. People come for help because they are weary and the journey has grown long and hard and the way forward seems very unclear. Many times people “check their bags” through to another destination, but the time comes when the baggage of life arrives and you have to pick up your burdens and begin to trudge forward. The issues of life can only be postponed so long. The bags always come tumbling down the conveyor belt sooner or later. That’s when people come for help. Sometimes the baggage has a label–“Parents” or “Children” or “Money” or “I Hate My Job” or “Abuse” or “Bad Memories” or “A Guilty Conscience.” Sometimes the baggage of life has no obvious label, and the caregiver must figure out what’s inside. Many people look at pastors (or counselors) as skycaps whose job it is to pick up the baggage of life and take it somewhere so it will be gone forever. They want someone to solve their problems for them. But that’s not the pastor’s job–and he couldn’t do it anyway. There are some burdens I can carry for other people (Galatians 6:1), but the greatest baggage of life must be dealt with individually. At some point, if people are going to get better, they have to decide to lay down their anger, their resentment, their fear, their mistrust, their pride and their misplaced priorities. The door to real change is always locked from the inside. Some things only you can do–and no one can do them for you. We must lay down the burdens of life if we want to make progress on our spiritual journey. “The hardest thing to leave behind in following Christ is not our many possessions, but the hurt and guilt we’ve collected as souvenirs from the places we’ve been. Periodically it’s necessary to get rid of the junk.” Many people have a hard time believing that they don’t have to carry the baggage with them forever. But the message of the gospel liberates the burdened soul. Jesus came to set us free from the past. If you’re ready, you can put those bags down and learn to smile once again.

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