by Angela T. Khabeb
My purse is big and heavy. I pack an umbrella even if the forecast includes only a 30 percent chance of rain. Why? Just in case. If I’m giving a presentation, I always pack a complete back-up outfit including an extra pair of shoes. Again, just in case. I’ve discovered that the more prepared I am, the safer I feel.
I imagine that since our brains are hardwired for survival, we instinctively scan the horizon for danger. Sometimes we hold on to negative experiences or even pain as a reminder to shield ourselves from future injury. Certainly this is one way to survive, by protecting our emotional selves behind well-guarded walls. But surviving is not the same as living and Jesus wants us to have abundant life.
Types of baggage
Over the years I’ve wondered if there is a connection between the tangible things we carry and the emotional or spiritual baggage that we retain.
When I think of a negative baggage that I still carry around years later, I am reminded of my fourth-grade teacher, Mrs. Navarette. She gave us an assignment: to write a poem about Christmas. Eager, excited and downright giddy, I leaped into action. Even at that early age, I considered myself a poet. With my sharpest pencil and in my best cursive writing, I began to craft my masterpiece. C is for . . . H is for . . .
After I turned in my poem, Mrs. Navarette approached me. I’ll never forget it. She walked up the aisle, stopping at the right of my desk, my poem in hand. “Angela?” Immediately I recognized the disapproving tone.
“Yes, Mrs. Navarette.”
“Where did you get this poem?” she continued.
“I made it up.”
“Oh, really?” The disbelief was etched in her voice. “It just sounds so pretty. It sounds like it came from a Hallmark card.”
Ouch. I told my mother about it. Although I was not included in their conversation, I can imagine the exchange. The next day, Mrs. Navarette went into damage-control mode. She made an awkward attempt to reassure me: “Did you think I didn’t believe you? I never said you didn’t write the poem.” Of course, this was technically true. No, she didn’t say it – but her implication was clear.
Today, over three decades later, would you believe her words are still in the back of my mind? In fact, she’s part of the reason I’ve switched from writing poetry to prose. I’ve carried this pain with me far beyond my childhood. I’d like to tell you that I’ve used this incident as a source of motivation to be the best writer I can be, but sadly, the opposite has been true. This baggage has weighed me down. Frequently, when I write, I feel her ghost next to me at the right side of my desk shaking her head in disapproval. But today, I think I will leave this negative narrative right here in this article.
I will transform my perspective and see this as an unsung victory – that at the tender age of nine, I was such an eloquent poet that even my teacher couldn’t believe I wrote that poem. What has long been an insult can now be an inspiration.
As we grow and mature, we collect all sorts of baggage along the way. And when we are ready, we can release some of the negative baggage.
Years ago, long before the rise of social media, I worked in customer service. I learned that when a person has a positive experience, they tell an average of three people about it. But when someone has a negative experience, they tell an average of nine people. I wonder why. Perhaps this is part of our survival instinct. Or maybe it is learned behavior – or perhaps a little bit of both. But unlike prehistoric times, today our survival is not usually determined by our ability to identify, uncover or report danger. We can retrain our brains to scan the horizon for joy.
Thankfully, we serve a God who specializes in renewal and can transform our minds. We can teach ourselves to savor the positive events in our lives. At first, we may need to be intentional. We may need to remind ourselves to stop and experience the wonder in this moment. But with practice, it will become second nature. Then we can release some of the painful memories that weigh us down and begin to replace them with the simple joys that we often hurry by or simply ignore. Ultimately, we can drop our bags and move beyond survival and into the abundant life that Jesus has promised for us.
1. Please describe any connection between your actual baggage and your emotional or spiritual baggage.
2. What things (positive or negative) do you hold on to?
3. What do you tend to see on your horizon–dangers or joys–and why?
Kind and loving God, thank you for the gift of your Holy Spirit who promises to lead and guide us into all truth. May we be open to the promptings of your Spirit as you continue to empower us to become our best selves. Teach us to speak life and to look for joy even in times of despair. Amen.
The Rev. Angela T. Khabeb is the associate pastor at Ascension Lutheran Church in Waukesha, Wis. She has an amazing husband, Benhi, two spectacular sons, Konami and Khenna, and a precious baby girl, Khonni.