As I was talking to a friend, Brenda, on Sunday afternoon, she said something to me that I found both powerful and upsetting. She reminded me that we all have baggage.
I’ll talk about why it was upsetting first: Though I know this statement to be true from personal experience it almost seems at odds with contemporary Christianity. In a way, it is. It’s almost like acknowledging to God that though he’s changed us, fixed us, and saved us, there’s a part of that that doesn’t go away. Maybe this tension is only distressing to me, maybe I’m making mountains out of mole hills but it seems to be a pervasive, yet underlying reality in the church. People are allowed to have pasts but when those pasts somehow affect the present, you’re doing it wrong.
The thing is, whether we Christians like to admit it or not, we aren’t perfect. And as human beings, the decisions we make tomorrow will probably be the result of some of the decisions we made yesterday. In an ideal world, all the decisions we made yesterday would have been perfectly God-honoring and sanctified but in this fallen world in which we live a good portions of yesterday’s decisions were in fact stupid or wrong or hurtful or even evil. Because we’re capable of that. We’re capable of showing the most profound acts of love and the most heinous crimes of evil. And a lot of why we do or don’t do these things has to do with our baggage.
That leads to the part of her statement that was powerful but I’ll insert a short note first: The thing I love about Brenda is that she’s honest. She embodies the verse in Ephesians 4. As such, she’s proven to be refreshingly truthful and equally real. Sometimes I grow weary of “Christianese”. Maybe it’s from a lifetime spent in church or perhaps from something else but I’ve always found that when people address me one-on-one in a very, I don’t know, “sanctified/unapproachable” tone I become a little distrustful and it’s kind of off-putting. That’s not to say that that behavior isn’t sometimes necessary (it’s important to be able to communicate and not downplay God’s glory) or that Brenda’s behavior is ideal, it’s just that I find her approach a little more relatable. I say this because when she reminded me that I do have baggage, she told me in a very matter-of-fact way which kind of drove the point home. But back to the topic at hand.
The reason her statement was powerful is because it reminded me that being in relationship with people isn’t about finding the person with the least baggage and then latching on to them as tightly as possible. It’s about meeting people with the right baggage. This isn’t a value judgment about which baggage is better or worse, it’s just the acknowledgement that some people are meant to deal with certain things and people. And we should be OK with that. We should be OK with the fact that our baggage might brush up hard against someone else’s baggage. We should be OK with the fact that because of our varied life experiences, we aren’t compatible with everyone.
So this is a baggage claim. Not in the way some people claim prosperity or healing or [insert blessing here] (again, not to devalue that – though I do wonder about it, but that’s another post). And not in a sad way, a way that claims bad qualities for no purpose but to wallow in their existence. No, this is a claim that says, I know I’m flawed, I know I have baggage, I know I’ve been redeemed, and so I know God can sort through all the different pieces of my luggage. It’s like the claim Isaiah makes when he says, I am a man of unclean lips and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips. It’s a claim that foremost seeks the refining fire of God and secondarily seeks a relationship with others. In other words my “baggage motto” is: if your baggage matches mine or if you can handle all my junk in the way that iron sharpens iron, you’re welcome here :).