The other day I was at my computer when I heard someone coming up the stairs with great effort. Chains rattled. Heavy items dropped. Every few seconds a boy sighed in frustration, groaning with effort.
Looking over the balcony I saw my 5-year-old, Cooper, standing two steps from the top of the staircase. Behind him, trailing almost to the bottom of the stairs, was a collection of items---pillowcases full of toys, a laundry basket full of pillows, several large stuffed animals, and a wide assortment of metal trucks. Everything was tied together with bits of rope, and bungee cords. Pieces of chain and several padlocks hooked the contraption around his stomach.
It was a reenactment of the scene from the movie The Mission, when Mendoza, who has just killed his brother, pulls a net full of his weapons and armor up Iguazu Falls as his penance for the evil deed. At one point, seeing him struggle, one of the priests cuts the rope and drops the net down the mountain. Mendoza goes down, picks it up, reties it, and heads back uphill, slipping, struggling, and groaning with his effort.
He finally arrives at the mission, where a man from the tribe cuts the ropes, symbolically releasing him from his burden.
I asked Cooper why, if it is so heavy and causing him such pain, he is dragging his load around. "Because," he says, not understanding it himself. On some level he's enjoying the pain. It makes him feel strong, exerting himself like that, pushing himself to the limit.
A couple of days later, he's done. He comes to me crying. We untie all the knots, undo the bungee cords, and put the basket back in the laundry room. He returns to his play with the vigor of a newly released prisoner.
We carry heavy bags into our lives. They hold us back, burdening and oppressing us. Pain notwithstanding, we hold on. Like someone once said to me, "I like getting the sin scoured out of me with a wire brush." We feel terrible carrying the load, but at least we're doing something.
In one bag, we hold deep emotional hurts that scrape our legs and bow our backs: Hard childhoods. Loveless relationships. Disappointments. Unrealized dreams. Grudges.
We carry another---this one a net of lies: "I'll never lose weight." "No one will ever marry me." "God is so far away." "Nothing will ever change."
Our last bag is heaviest, held onto with white-knuckles. Guilt. Faithlessness. Anger. Bitterness. Despair.
We forget that God has cut the chains. Perhaps the wire brush hasn't caused enough bleeding for us to feel forgiven.
Daily reminders of the truth are essential: His burden is easy. His yoke is light. Anything other than that is self-imposed penance, the exhausting haul up a rocky mountain loaded down with a weight He already freed us from. Tumbling down the hillside is a net full of many things, one of which is a wire brush.
". . . my chains are gone. I've been set free. My God, My Savior has ransomed me. And like a flood, His mercy rains. Unending love, amazing grace . . ." (Chris Tomlin).