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A Love Lesson from Backpacking

I love backpacking!

I’m not talking about driving your car up to a spot and unloading your tent for the night. I love trips where you carry all your resources on your back miles into a remote, wilderness area.

A 40 mile, multi-day trip that could end in disaster if you screw up appeals to me for some reason (said to the consternation of my wife). I know I’m weird, but if it’s not hard then why do it?

I’m so nerdy about backpacking that I even read about it. One of my favorite authors to read is Andrew Skurka. He points out that a lighter pack equals hiking more miles per day. This involves wisdom—knowing what you need and don’t need on any given trip.

And here’s a money quote from Skurka, “You pack your fears.”

If you’re afraid of being hungry, you’ll pack too much food. If you’re afraid of being cold, you’ll pack too many clothes.

And doesn’t that apply to relationships too?

Relationships aren’t neutral. You and I carry the past with us. If we’re not careful, we can overcompensate and overreact because of past experiences.

Maybe you’re a pastor of a church. You grew close to a church member who later betrayed and hurt you. Now whenever you meet a new guest at your church, you’re fear of future betrayal displays itself in self-protective distance.

Maybe you’re a church member. You shared sin struggles in your small group. Rather than receiving grace and help, others judged you with unkind words. You still go to your small group, but you vow never to make that mistake again.

Relationally, we pack our fears. And if we don’t surrender them to Jesus, the gospel is at stake.


Love Costs

You can only love to the degree you’re willing to be hurt.

The cross of Jesus teaches us this—“In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” – 1 John 4:10

In God’s world, love is defined by a torture device. God’s love was lifted up for us to see as Jesus opened His arms wide.

Jesus loved us completely as displayed by His willingness to be hurt decisively (Jn. 10:17-18; Phil. 2:8).

Of course, we need wise boundaries in relationships. We shouldn’t choose to subject ourselves to blatant abuse in relationships. But if fear keeps us out of the game of love, then we have lost the way of the cross.

Pastor, I understand that you and your wife have suffered at the hands of people you sought to serve. But trust God, pick up your cross and take new folks into you heart—knowing they might hurt you too (2 Cor. 7:2-4).

Christian, I understand that vulnerability feels like dying. But trust God and share—knowing the very people nodding in empathy today might be the same ones crucifying you later.

Love takes others into our heart—for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness or health and in life or death.


Love without Fear

Living this way is insane apart from Jesus.

The only reason we can love like Jesus is because “perfect love casts out fear” (1 Jn. 4:18). Yet, this is also where we falter. We expect others to love us with a perfect love, and our standard becomes acceptance through perfection—as long as you don’t hurt me, then I’ll love you.

Instead, the gospel standard is acceptance in spite of pain—even though you hurt me, I’ll love you.

The only way to not carry old fears into new relationships is to rely on the perfect love of God that carried all our fears to the cross of Jesus.

In love, Jesus carried a cross so that you and I wouldn’t have to carry fear anymore.


Love is Worth It

At some point, love always feels like dying. The deeper you take someone into your heart, the more deeply they can hurt you. And that’s scary.

But the alternative is scarier. Living your whole life guarded, distant and unknown inflicts a greater pain of loneliness. You were made to love, and the pain of love is worth it.

Love is worth it because as we pick up our cross in love for others, we share in the life of Love Himself (Phil. 3:10-11; 1 Jn. 4:9).

Today, as you trek into whatever relationships the Lord has given you, don’t pack old fears. Instead, pick up your cross—all the while remembering the cross Jesus picked up for you.

“Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.” – 1 John 4:11-12

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