Ties That Bind

First, forgive me for my silence on this blog. I haven’t forgotten my readers or my mission. I just took a little break to teach some of what I know about creative writing to college students. Although Dennis and I are retired from our full-time jobs, we’re still teaching online. Now I have more mental and emotional energy to devote to my writing. So, here we go—again!

“…Lay aside every encumbrance…which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us…” (Hebrews 12:1 NASB)

Recently I felt encumbered. My jeans were digging into my waistline, my shoes were pinching my toes, and my face mask got tangled up in my reading glasses. And those are only the things I’m willing to share! As I was trying to disentangle myself to some level of comfort, this Bible passage came to mind. I realize, of course, that this word is not about physical comfort because that kind of encumbrance is surely to get worse as I get older. This admonition from the writer of Hebrews (who is unknown) is a mental and spiritual message. He just uses the metaphor of a physical race to make his point. 

I’m not a runner, never have been, and probably never will be, but I’ve seen many races in my time as the mother of sons who participated in sporting events. These events were often about speed and endurance and it was clear that the runner could not win if he was dressed in heavy clothing, carrying superfluous weight, or wearing shoes that were too tight. 

Some of the burdens in our lives can come from the past—failures and successes. Wearing our medals or carrying our trophies, like the winner of a race, can become a burden because it’s impossible to “rest upon” our laurels. 

Disappointments and bad decisions can anchor us to our past also. As my friend, Derric Johnson, says: “My ‘I never could,’ becomes my ‘I could never.’” In other words, just because I failed in the past doesn’t dictate my lack of success in the future.

Paul, too, used the race metaphor several times in his correspondence. In his letter to the Ephesians, he writes… “lay aside the old self…” (Eph. 4:22) “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you…” (Eph. 4:31)

That is one weight we can do without.  Bitterness toward someone who has done us harm is a huge weight to carry around, and usually, we who hold the grudge are the ones most afflicted by it. Extra baggage.

These kinds of encumbrances affect not only our spiritual and mental well-being, but it can influence our physical health as well. A University of Minnesota study on how fear and anxiety can damage our physical health declares, “Fear [and anxiety] weakens our immune system and can cause cardiovascular damage, gastrointestinal problems such as ulcers and irritable bowel syndrome, and decreased fertility. It can lead to accelerated aging and even premature death.”

How do we throw off the encumbrances? Jesus said, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:28-29)

Rick Warren, the renowned author and pastor, suggests this to help us to find peace when we feel encumbered:

R—Realize nobody’s perfect.

E—Enjoy God’s unconditional love.

L—Let God handle things.

A—Act in faith, not fear.

X—Exchange your perfectionism for God’s peace.

Cast all your anxiety on [God] because he cares for you (1 Peter 5:7 NIV)

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