Emotional Baggage Claim

Emotional BaggageIt’s an all too familiar scene after each flight we take. No sooner do the wheels hit the tarmac, and travel weary passengers erupt into life as if each seat injected its comatose passengers with 5cc’s of epinephrine. Nervous apologies are made as people compulsively burst from their seats and start yanking their bags and belongings from the overhead compartments. Throats nervously cleared. Passive aggressive (some outright aggressive) elbows are thrown. Knees are knocked. Heads are clonked. The frenzy is just beginning.

Eyes glazed over, the dazed and confused passengers stampede toward the baggage claim like hogs to the slaughter. I think I’ve even heard a few oinks and squeals along the way! The first few to arrive look a little bewildered as they attempt to confirm which magical carousel will jettison their precious cargo. With anticipation that rivals Christmas Morning, passengers feverishly alternate their glances between their watches, clocks on the wall, and the screens above. While some have transfixed their gaze upon their hallowed cellphone as if it were a crystal ball revealing the lottery numbers from this week’s Power Ball.

Welcome to Baggage Claim!

I’ll admit it’s difficult not to get swept up in the excitement, and even the competition of disembarking the plane to get to your meeting, start your vacation, or to fall into the warm embrace of those who may be anxiously awaiting your arrival.

While this scene alone is ripe with allegories, analogies, and metaphors, I’d like to share some thoughts about a baggage claim of another sort.

Your Baggage is Heavier Than You Think

Baggage comes in many shapes, sizes, and capacities. This holds true for physical baggage AND emotional baggage. Somewhere along your life’s travels, you’ve acquired a great many “souvenirs.” Events, both good and bad, all leave unique imprints upon you, your mind, your heart, even your entire outlook on life. Unresolved pain, unresolved issues, and pent up feelings of anger, resentment, or bitterness, can start to become part of the baggage we carry around. The sad irony is, this baggage can subtly grow so heavy over a period of time, that we don’t even realize the weight we’ve been carrying around until, and this is important, we set it down.

Check Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself

“Setting it down” can mean a lot of things. For the purpose of this post’s theme, we will call it “checking our baggage.” When we “check” our baggage, we present it before someone; an attendant. They inquire about the contents, they determine the weight, you pay a price, and they whisk it away until you reach your next destination.

We’ve personally checked in baggage before that exceeded normal weight limits. Of course these limits are established by the airline, but our own capacity to carry things we have no business carrying seems to grow. It’s often not until we place it on a scale, that we realize the true weight of what we’ve been carrying for who knows how long.

Checking your baggage every once in a while is healthy. In fact, we’ve had so many surprises at the airport check-in, we purchased a scale of our own to determine how heavy our baggage is. We don’t like surprises. Routinely checking in on your own baggage with a trusted friend, counselor, pastor, or mentor, are excellent ways of ensuring your baggage isn’t interfering with your ability to grow, thrive, and even excel.

Airlines use a pre-flight checklist to check and re-check every safety aspect of their planes. Our lives, and the lives of our loved ones depend on it. They check it so they don’t wreck it! Being excessively weighed down by baggage (and too many passengers – life has those too) can inhibit an airplane’s ability to safely take-off, reach altitude, and safely land. The emotional weight of your baggage can in like manner adversely affect your ability to take-off, reach your potential, and to safely arrive at your destination of a fulfilled and purposeful life in Christ.

“Let ‘er Rip!”

old luggage cartNow in our mid-forties, there’s a terrific service at some of the airports we frequent, that we’ve started to use. These big strapping fellows who are all too willing to toss your bags up on these luggage carts and push them right up to the counter, your shuttle, or your car. For a nice tip, they’re friendly enough and will point you in the right direction of a good restaurant, hotel, or area attractions.

1 Peter 5:6 – 8 instructs us, “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time: 7 Casting all your care upon him; for he cares for you. 8 Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walks about, seeking whom he may devour…”

The Greek word here for “casting” comes from the root word “rhipto” or phonetically said, “rip-toe” which means to hurl forcefully. I like to think Peter was saying, like we would in our post-modern vernacular, “Let ‘er rip!” This phrase is a little dated, but basically is said when someone is about to launch something.

Could it be that Peter, a couple thousand years earlier would have realized our propensity for carrying things around we have no business carrying? Could it also be that Peter, during his early days with Christ, realized his own innate inclination toward carrying around things that interfered with his walk with the Lord? These verses provide us with such tremendous spiritual insight into how best to handle the baggage that causes us so much heartbreak. But, according to Peter, one of the preconditions to being afforded this powerful privilege is humility.

Lower Before You Launch

Before we can ever expect to launch, we must be willing to lower ourselves; humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God. When you humble yourself under His Hand, it will literally allow God to give you a hand, not just any hand, His Hand! It will be His Hand that will carry the seemingly insurmountable weight of your grief, your pain, your sorrow, your anxiety, your fears, your worries; all your care! And, it will be His Hand that will “exalt you in due time.” That word “exalt” means to restore your dignity, your honor, and your rightful place in Him.

Like those big brawny lads at the airport that magically appear at your trunk as you’re unloading your baggage, Jesus is lovingly there saying, “Hey toss that over here! I got this!” You may wince, like we do sometimes when we think about how heavy our bags are before the guys pick them up, but you never for a moment have to doubt that Jesus can take it. He’s more than proven Himself. He overcame Death and Hell…it’s safe to say Jesus can handle anything else you “throw” His way!

Music to Your Ears

When we check our baggage with the Lord, it would behoove us all to, in the in the now infamous and lyrically addictive words of Elsa in the Disney Movie “Frozen,” Let it go…let it go!

Upon your arrival to God’s Divine purpose and calling for your life, don’t compulsively run over to baggage claim like a moth to a flame to look for your bags to pick them up again. The words of the old spiritual song are never truer than at this moment, “Leave them there…leave them there. Take your burdens to the Lord and leave them there!”

Once we give it to God, don’t lay claim to it any longer. Peter warned, “Be sober, be vigilant.” The enemy is diabolical and deceitful. He will try to deliver the old baggage of your past in a brand new fancy bag with a bright red bow. Do not take delivery. Do not sign for it. Don’t let your neighbor sign for it. Don’t even allow Satan to leave it on your front porch! Since I’m apparently closing with a musical theme here, the words of that 1962 Elvis Presley song come to mind, “Return to sender…address unknown!”

You may think you’re fooling everyone by nap-sacking your issues and trying to inconspicuously tote them around, but like the little child who covers her eyes thinking no one can see her; someone sees. That someone is Jesus and He’s given us all an invitation today, “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28 – 30)

A Deep Dark Place

We’re in a deep dark place in life when we can trample under foot the truths, the values, and the love we were raised with. Whether out of defiance, or desperation, we sink to a place of becoming someone we’re not. We no longer recognize that man or woman in the mirror. We lash out in anger because of our own inner unresolved pain. We isolate ourselves from those that love us, and believe in us, and close doors it took years to open, and open doors it will take years to close.

Word to the wise: Don’t wait until it’s gotten to the point you’re so caught up in your downward spiral, that your children will be caught up in a cyclone of pain and despair. It won’t be the same as yours; it will be far worse. It will have built on the negative energy of your despair, and intensified to a hellish fury in the precious lives of your sons and daughters. We may have sown the wind, but our children will reap the whirlwind.

I plead with you to end the vicious cycle. Your Savior died to spare you from the cyclone of sin and spiritual death. Get the help you need. Spare the next generation of having to contend with the ill effects of your pain compounded with their own.

The Gamut of Grief

What I am about to share was derived from my response to an email I received from a very good friend of mine who was encouraging me to allow “grief” to run its course. This may not make any sense to you, but I found that as I wrote it, it helped me process what I have been feeling over the almost 2 months since Dad passed away.

Coping with Grief
The thing I’ve learned in this grieving process; there are no real rules. Rule books go out the window. People tell you what they “think,” but you can’t “think” your way through grief. It’s a journey. Albeit, a journey we all dread. It’s very much a journey of the heart over the head. And the thing is…there’s no shortcut here. It simply is going to take time. At times I feel numbness, which I feel is more of a feeble attempt at a coping strategy for me. When the emotions well up, I take the time I need. Experts try to describe it and have even given stages to it. But honestly, there’s no replacement for going through it yourself. People try to console you, and I’m grateful for their love, support, and understanding. But, people that have been where I am now, are the ones I find the greatest comfort from. Everyone else can try to help, and I welcome their love, but those that have experienced this pain can relate; often without words. I have to admit, in the past I’ve lost loved ones (cousins, grandparents, and friends), but it’s NOTHING like losing Dad.

The Gamut of Grief

I just can’t sit and dwell on the loss of my dad, to do so would be to rob me and my family of what I gained from having such a great father. What’s amazing; with my dad, you can literally be crying one minute and the very next be laughing. While that sounds like a dichotomy of emotions, that’s just how it’s worked for me. People “worry” when someone loses a loved one if they don’t cry “enough”…I have…but each person expresses their grief differently. Crying helps, but is just one small aspect of the grieving process. There’s the heartache, the withdrawals, the emptiness, the loneliness, the anguish, the sleeplessness, the hunger loss, the denial, the anger, the doubt, the confusion, the questions…the list goes on and on.

Dad is Still Teaching Me
I thought with the passing of my father that I would no longer be able to learn from him; not true. I’ve learned a great deal from him even though he has passed on.

  • I’ve learned to listen more attentively.
  • Care more deeply.
  • Take more time with loved ones.
  • Linger longer with loved ones.
  • We need one another.
  • Our life isn’t about what we’ve done; it’s about who we’ve become.
  • Rather than be bitter about the moments you’ll miss – be grateful for the ones you’ve had.
  • To obsess over the joys you’ll never again experience, is to overlook the joys yet on your horizon.
  • When someone says their sick – even if you think they’re not, if they’re feeling it, be sympathetic.
  • Sometimes people can’t always put into words what or how they feel; they just need someone to listen and take them seriously.
  • You’ll never have enough time with a loved one – you’ll always want just one more moment, one more day, one more phone call, one more email, one more voicemail.
  • The things you’ll miss the most are the hugs, the warm embraces, the touch of their hand, the sound of their voice, the sound of their laughter, the excitement in their eyes, the times you laughed together and the times you cried.
  • The slowest thing to heal is a broken heart – sometimes it never completely recovers.
  • Don’t put-off saying what needs to be said.
  • There are just some things you will never fully understand…in this life.
  • Death and the loss it brings touches more than just the family of the loved one.

I Don’t Want to Get Over Losing Dad
This is going to sound strange, but I don’t want to “get over” losing my dad. I want the tenderness of his memory to make me still get emotional. Whether it makes me laugh or cry, I want the full impact of his memory to live on inside of me. Even if it hurts to think of him, I still want it. Even if it makes me cry for no reason, and at the wrong times, I still want it. My dad made me laugh more in his lifetime than some fathers could do in 10 lifetimes. The occasional bout with tears are a small price for the laughter he brought me…and continues to bring me when I least expect it in the fondness of his memory.

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Update: The 3rd year my father’s passing, August 7, 2011 has come and recently there have been friends and family who have lost loved ones.  As a way to remind myself of the lessons, and to encourage others, I decided to update and re-post this article. My prayer is these words bless you and that you feel not only my hand in yours, but ultimately the Lord’s Hand of comfort most of all, as you join others on this journey I call the “Gamut of Grief.” ~ Rodger Mangold