Everyone is writing about the Iowa caucuses today. Well, everyone in the line of work I'm in here at Not the Bee. But that's not where I am today. And so while this may come completely out of left field for some, I'm hoping it can hit others where they are right now.
Baggage. The kind that clutters up our lives, weighs them down, and too often comes to define us - usually a result of our own choice to let it.
The truth about baggage is that we all have it. All of us. No matter how it may look from the outside, no matter how many people tell you how "drama-free" or "scandal-free" they are, no matter how many people put on a brave face and pretend they don't battle depression, they don't have family strife, they haven't been through emotional trauma associated with betrayal, they aren't still reeling from past mistakes - that person you're looking at, that person saying those things? They have it.
I've got it. Baggage from things that have happened, demons I have battled, struggles I've labored under, heartbreak I've experienced, things that no one else - not my parents, not my kids, in some cases not even my wife - have any idea about. And here's what else. If you were writing this column, I know you could say the same thing about your own life.
So where does that leave us? Well, I suppose it gives us the somewhat unhelpful awareness that at least we aren't alone in our misery. At least there are other people who feel they have jacked up their lives, irrevocably damaged their relationships, trampled their one chance at a meaningful, happy, and fulfilled life. Misery loves company, right? If I have to suffer, there's at least some blessing in knowing that others are suffering in lonely isolation too - tortured by the pain, but too ashamed to expose it to others who might brace us up.
I could be wrong, but I imagine that the holiday season only exacerbated or enflamed the already unpleasant consequences of your baggage. I was thinking about the intensity of those feelings recently when I was reading about the death of a man named Joseph Scriven.
In his youth, sometime in the early 1830s, Scriven had met a young lady to whom he became engaged. He was standing on the bank of a river named Bann when he watched her fall from the horse she was riding, tumble into the river, and be swept away, drowning before anyone could rescue her. That's a baggage that lingers.
Years later, Scriven had overcome his grief enough to find new love. But weeks before that wedding, his fiancé developed pneumonia and died. That's a baggage that buries you. And if I were a betting man, I'd say that's just what it did for Joseph Scriven. His story doesn't have a happy ending. One of Scriven's closest friends said at the time,
We left him about midnight. I withdrew to an adjoining room, not to sleep, but to watch and wait. You may imagine my surprise and dismay when on visiting the room I found it empty. All searches failed to find a trace of the missing man, until a little after noon the body was discovered in the water nearby, lifeless and cold in death.
It could have been an accident, but I don't think it probably was. I think the burdens and baggage of life had piled too greatly on his shoulders.
And that's why, even amid all the political talk and election hysteria today, I fear that maybe the same thing is happening for some, even one, of you that decided to read this. I don't know if your world has just been shattered by unexpected news. I don't know if life continues to disappoint, or if those on whom you feel you can rely have dwindled further and further in number.
What I do know is that, ironically, Scriven penned lifesaving words before his death that are positioned to remind each of us of a sacred truth. Tucked between his mattress and the sheets was found this poem which he claimed he "and the Lord" had written:
What a friend we have in Jesus, All our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry, Everything to God in prayer!
Oh, what peace we often forfeit, Oh, what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry, Everything to God in prayer.
Some of you are feeling the weight of your baggage today. Some of you feel suffocated by it and overwhelmed by the emotion of it all. Don't forfeit the peace available to you in prayer. Even if you've never done so before, take it there, take it to Him, right now.
Because Scriven was right, these weren't just his words - the fallible words of a man racked by sorrow, and haunting images of what might have been. These were the words Jesus spoke authoritatively in Nazareth in Luke 4:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised.
Some of us need our broken hearts healed. Some of us need to be delivered from the captivity of shame or sin that envelops us in secret. Some of us need the scales to fall from our eyes. Some of us still feel the bruises of our past.
Listen to Jesus. Listen to Joseph Scriven. Right now, take it to the Lord in prayer. May God bless you all today.