From the Editor
The Burden of Fear
JR and I always laugh about that first overnighter. We’d been doing day hikes around the Anchorage area for the past year, but we wanted to step it up. We wanted to take it up a notch. So we got out the hiking guide books, threw the map on the floor, and set out to plan our first ever multi-day hike. But instead of just picking a standard, well-travelled hike, listed in the guide book as “easy to moderate” or “awesome hike, an Alaskan classic,” we decided to make up our own.
We planned a traverse that connects the challenging summit of Pioneer Peak from the north with the southeastern reaches of the Eklutna Lake trails. In between, however, lies 15 miles of ridgecrossings, valley sloggings, and off-trail route finding that requires some reasonable map reading skills to arrive at the correct exit trail. The hike would finish up with a five-mile easy walkout to a truck we dropped off 3 days earlier.
To make matters worse, we packed like we were on our first Everest expedition, but without any Sherpas. To say we were loaded down would be an understatement. I packed extra clothes, extra food, extra water, extra stove parts, extra water pump parts, tarps, a pillow, enough first aid gear for a small army, and 2 different ways to make coffee. I was not going to be caught un-prepared. The only problem with being that prepared is that you’re so loaded down you can’t keep a decent pace, not to mention the energy you expend to carry it all. You almost have to carry extra food to fuel yourself to carry the extra food.
Amazingly we made it, but not without serious expenditure of sweat, calories, and not an insignificant loss of skin and toe nails. The kicker of course is what you all already know: I didn’t need half of what I brought. I realize now that the reason I carried that much gear was not out of some Boy Scout –esque desire to “always be prepared” (although that’s what I told myself), it was out of fear. I was afraid of every possible disaster: running out of food, running out of water, getting lost, getting wet, getting cold, or getting hurt in any number of ways. The fear drove me to pack so many things “just in case.”
Over the years I have shrunk my base weight significantly. My one-man tent, ultra-light sleeping bag and pad, and first-aid kit weigh half as much as they used to. I carry extra socks, sleeping thermals, and rain gear, but no other “just in case it snows in July” extras. I don’t end my hikes with enough food for another week anymore, and I even gave in and quit bringing a pillow along. I still have 2 ways to make coffee though; you have to draw the line somewhere.
Besides buying some lighter basics like tents and sleeping bags, I didn’t really try all that hard to lighten up. Looking back, I realize now that it was a process of becoming comfortable in the backcountry. The more comfortable I became, the less I feared what might happen. I began to realize that I didn’t need all that food, I could use iodine tablets if the pump broke, and I could make a shelter or a fire in an emergency. Fear had loaded me down.
As I look back on starting a career, navigating relationships, and being a young parent, I realize that some of that same fear had loaded me down in that part of my life as well. How many friendships had I pulled back from for fear of getting hurt? Were there job opportunities or adventures to be had that I was too afraid to pursue because I wasn’t 100% sure how they would turn out? Did I shelter my kids from their own adventures and opportunities because I didn’t want them to be in danger?
These fears bog us down and cause us to keep on accumulating stuff: stuff we think will protect us. We buy houses with alarm systems and cars with airbags. We do early toddler education, sports as soon as possible, and sign up for every organized activity we can fit into our Google Calendar. We buy the latest and greatest stuff so that we don’t look like failures or so that we don’t fall “behind the times.” Then, after buying all this stuff, we buy insurance on all the stuff to make sure we protect it. But do we really need all of it?
I am certainly not saying that safety and caution should be thrown to the wind, or that alarm systems and airbags aren’t a good idea. But can we get so safety conscious that it keeps us from living a joyful, abundant life: like slogging miles and miles with an oversized backpack weighing us down? Do we trust in the Lord for real, or do we just say we trust and really don’t feel comfortable until our gear count or our bank account reaches a certain level?
The rich young ruler asked Jesus a similar question: what can I do to enter the kingdom? Jesus didn’t say to work harder, prepare more, or get more stuff to help him on his journey. He simply told the man to sell what he had and follow Him. I don’t think the point was to sell his stuff and give it to the poor, the point was to sell his stuff in order to un-burden himself of the trappings of this life.
When we spend so much time preparing for the what-ifs of some unforeseen future, we can miss out on the joys of the tangible present. I have to believe that when the rains come (and they will) and I’m injured and in trouble, Jesus and I can hunker down, make a shelter, and get a fire going until the weather clears and help arrives. I must have faith that He’ll be with me in the tough times just as He is in the good times. I’ve done a pretty decent job of lightening my multi-day hiking backpack, but I think I need to work more on lightening my everyday life pack.
Pursue, Explore, Celebrate,