Expectations, Baggage, and God

Remember packing for the last trip you took? Suitcases, backpacks, bags. Sometimes packing can be the most stressful part of the journey. What did you take? What did you leave behind? Why did you take what you did?

Most of us, I suspect, pack for our trips based on our expectations of where we are going, how long we will be gone, what we will do, who we will be with, and what the weather and terrain will be like. This is true not only for our geographical journeys but also for our emotional and spiritual journeys. Have you ever packed some fear, anger, or resentment based upon an upcoming meeting or conversation with a particular person? Maybe there have been times in your life when you carried a little delusion with you so you did not have to face a painful reality or truth. I suspect we have all, at one time or another, carried a bag full of expectations on our journey of prayer.

An underlying assumption in all our packing is that what we will need will not be available or provided if we do not provide it for ourselves. In some way our packing is an attempt to insulate and protect us from the risks and variables of the journey. Perhaps if we pack the right things we might gain some control and predictability over the circumstances of the journey and minimize the possibility of discomfort along the way. That, however, is the attitude of a tourist, one who wants to visit some cool places, take pretty pictures, buy souvenirs, and return to the home he or she started from.

Pilgrims, however, are looking for a new home. They leave behind more than they pack. Pilgrims journey in such a way as to make themselves open, receptive, and vulnerable. They take nothing for the journey. Instead, they trust that the journey will provide. The journey may not provide what they want, but it will offer what they need. Pilgrims understand that baggage, whether physical, emotional, or spiritual, often closes us off to the possibilities and the gifts the journey offers. Baggage, an outward and visible sign of inward expectations, limits where we will go, how we see, and what we can do.

There is often a wide gap between our expectations of the journey and the journey itself. Sometimes we come home disappointed because the trip did not meet our expectations. What if there had been no expectations, if we had taken nothing for the journey? I wonder what we would have seen, how we would have been changed, who we would have met, and the ways in which God would have surprised and provided for us with more than we could ask or imagine.

The season of Advent challenges us to examine the expectations that fill the baggage we carry. How do they shape and limit who we think God is and what God is about in the world? What luggage might we need to lose? What would happen if we took nothing for the journey? My hunch is that Jesus would be born in us anew and God would come again for the first time.

(This was originally written for and posted at Reflections, an online and print magazine published by the Episcopal Diocese of West Texas.)

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