As a not-very robust 13 year old I got a taste of New England hiking: a goodly number of miles on some fairly rigorous Green Mountain trails. (Lesson to non-hikers: downhill can be just as formidable as up.) And both up and down with what seemed to me a heavy pack on my back: food, sleeping bag, extra clothes, a canteen full of water.
Andy was our leader: About 10 years my senior, a good sport, and an encourager. I don’t know if he was a Christian. If he was, he would have made an effective pastor.
On one long, steep, hot afternoon, I was schoolboy-weary. I think Andy sensed it. I heard the thud, thud of his hiking boots behind me on the trail. The sound told me he was close (although I did not actually turn around to check).
Suddenly, my backpack became weightless. The straps were still around my shoulders. Sweat still poured down my back. But the load was gone. Andy was walking near and had reached and grasped the base of my knapsack, and lifted it. Not off my shoulders (the shoulder-straps remained in place). Just enough to relieve the physical burden. The straps were on me but the burden was on him.
For about 100 yards.
That was all it took. The sense of another’s support, and the physical relief – temporary, of course – was all it took. For me, the emotional chemistry of that day changed. Decades later, I vividly recall it.
A few years after that hiking summer, I became a Christian. Then and since I have loved the Psalms. And countless times I have drawn life from Psalm 68:19: “Praise be to the Lord, to God our Saviour, who daily bears our burdens” (NIV).
The straps don’t disappear. We still have to go to work, get the car fixed, pay the rent and learn to make friendships work. But according to that psalm, the weight is not on us.