Setting Down the Suitcase

by Jamie Bonnema

Think, for a moment, if you can relate to this scenario: A series of less than pleasant circumstances takes place. Your frustration is building along the way, but you keep trudging on, doing your best to hold your composure. And then, in a weak moment, you let your guard down, and all those nasty emotions come out at the wrong place, the wrong time, and with the wrong person. It may be a spouse who takes the blow, a friend, a coworker, a superior, or a perfect stranger. As it is happening, almost in slow motion, we can see the crash ahead but can’t find a way to stop it or turn the situation around. We just keep carrying the suitcase of yuckiness until is so heavy, we throw it onto the already full arms of someone else. Recently, after a very tough week, that is exactly what I did.

Feeling a ton of regret, it reminded me of something that happened many years ago. I was a youth treatment counselor working in a school, in what felt like one of the hardest times of my career. Things were not going well, crisis events were frequent, and I was grasping at straws for an answer to alleviate the situation we were in. I blamed people, who I believed were watching the events unfold while doing nothing. I blasted them in a mass email. I was going to be the voice that was heard, and things would be better for all (or so I thought). I had a tinge of remorse after hitting the send button, and then slightly braced myself for what may follow.

The next day, like a little kid in trouble, I got called by my superior into her office—the principal’s office. Suddenly, I didn’t feel so awesome, admitting to myself that I chose to handle things the wrong way. I expected a good lashing when I walked through her door. But, what happened next was unexpected and undeserved. Knowing what I did was out of character, she decided to look past my anger and frustration to unearth what was really going on in my life. She handed me compassion and a box of Kleenex, as I unpacked all my “stuff” that had been weighing me down. I didn’t leave that office for a long time, and when I did, I wasn’t angry or frustrated anymore. I had no one to blame or think ill of. I was at peace.

Sometime after the principal’s office event, I read a great book called Traveling Light by Max Lucado. In this book, subtitled “Releasing the Burdens You Were Never Meant to Carry,” Lucado walks us through Psalm 23 to remind us that the burdens of weariness, worry, and hopelessness are to be left to a God who wants to be our shepherd, to lead, to carry the load, and handle the problems. He wants to take these burdens from us. “He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul.” Every burden we face continues to be beautifully addressed throughout this Psalm.

Just like getting called into the principal’s office, sometimes we walk into God’s presence, needing correction and guidance. We may even be forced into His presence because He loves us too much to let us keep going on our way with all our baggage. And, instead of getting the strong correction we probably deserve, God sees our broken spirit, approaches it with compassion, and addresses the root issues of our heart. He hands us a box of Kleenex, listens while we unpack our hurts, and lets us stay in His presence until His peace is felt and we leave the suitcase behind.

But, imagine if we were in the habit of walking into his presence on our own, unpacking the burdens as they come. Would we see situations clearly and handle them with love? Would we walk through our day without a heavy load? Would we have both arms available, wide open for loving those around us with the grace and compassion that others desperately need? I believe so.

Jamie Bonnema is a former youth treatment counselor for residential care, education, and wilderness programs. She is a married mother of four children, works from home with a biotech company, and loves spending time outdoors.