Living Out of an Old Suitcase

~~A friend of mine has tied all her childhood baggage to the top of her car and is headed to Texas to bury her mother. Funny that no matter how many years pass, the effects of our childhood mark us with indelible permanence. We can learn to overcome it, work around it, compensate for it, distance ourselves from it, and hide it from ourselves and others, but it never really goes away. When faced with those old surroundings and circumstances and people, the baggage begins to pile up, and we begin to live out of those old suitcases.

Sigh. Yes, I just heaved a sigh, because the enormity of it overwhelms me. I know this struggle and I long to lift this burden from her. And from me. When you come from a home of dysfunction (not the psycho-babble first world type of dysfunction, but the version that includes abuse of every kind named in the books), so many things trigger the latch on your bags and they suddenly spring open and spill their contents across the floor, demanding that you wear these things! Dirty shirts. Torn pants. Worn shoes. Things that don’t fit any longer, but you wear them anyway. Old shame. Old failure. Old habits. Things purchased for you, in many cases, by others, without regard for your own tastes or desires. Like getting a bunch of stuff for Christmas that wasn’t on your wish list. Stuff you convince yourself to accept, but know you don’t want. All packed into suitcases that you carry with you everywhere like Jacob Marley’s chains.

In some things, I have made enough progress to look at the guts of my suitcases spilled out in front of me like a wardrobe of accusations and I’m able to pick and choose what I wear. Some things I can assess with clarity and decide that, no, that was not mine from the beginning. It was a hand-me-down that never fit. It was entirely the wrong color. I hated it from the start and I’m not wearing it again. Period. Other things still feel…comfortable. Even when they strangle me.  

I’m not sure how far my friend has come in sorting out her bags, but today she is facing these choices in a very real way. She has to decide if she will slip back into the hated but comfortable family role that has defined her place among her people for decades, or if she will buck the expectation and rise above that. If she chooses to rise, there will be fall-out: name-calling, reminders, histrionics, and manipulations. The ripples from her choice will be far-reaching and may spring a few other latches, which will then demand attention…and retribution. There is always a price to pay for freedom. But that is the very thing that she and I, and all of us who are constantly living out of an old suitcase must remember: the price for our freedom has been paid.

As those who are now clothed with the glory of Christ, we have the strength within us to stand without flinching in the midst of our toppled baggage with all of our old shame exposed. We have a new name, a new family, and a new identity that is eternally unaffected by our own or anyone else’s opinion, assessment, accusation, attack, or attempt to discredit. You, my friend, are a child of God. There is no other name on your luggage tag. There is only one bag that you need to carry, and nothing in that bag but the radiance of Christ. It’s just that it’s such a small bag, demanding so little effort and bearing so little weight, that you forget it contains everything you need. Clutch it to your chest and let the rest fall open where they may. Squeeze your eyes shut tight as you stand in the middle of the mess spilled out around you, and hum “The Old Rugged Cross”. But whatever you do, do not pick up another dirty shirt and pull it over your tear-stained face while your spirit cries out in objection! Pack the bags and drag them with you if you insist…but live out of one new suitcase. The only one that matters.