the weblog of Alan Knox

The Hard Way: Dealing with unnecessary burdens on our spiritual journey

Posted by on Sep 17, 2012 in discipleship | 12 comments

The Hard Way: Dealing with unnecessary burdens on our spiritual journey

A few years ago, my son and I joined a friend and his son on a hiking and camping trip through part of the Appalachian Trail in Pennsylvania. We planned to hike about 25 miles in 3 days, tent camping for the 2 nights that we were on the trail. At one point, during lunch on the second day, we met someone. After thinking about this encounter, I realized that it was – in some ways – a parallel to my spiritual journey. I shared the story with my friend Dan from “Some Church Stuff.” He said the story paralleled his own spiritual journey in a different way. He also said that he was going to steal my story and write a post of his own. So, before Dan took credit for my story in his post “The Wrong Way,” I thought I would publish something about this story too.

While we were getting ready for our hike, we loaded our backpacks with tents, sleeping bags, food, clothes, cooking utensils, more food, rain gear, camp stoves, even more food, and snacks, among other things. Altogether, between the four of us, we carried about 150 lbs on our backs as we stepped onto the Appalachian Trail. We would hike for several hours each day, then camp at night. During the second day, while we were stopped for a lunch break, a man ran up and asked if he could eat lunch with us. He was only carrying a water bladder on his back, and a small belt pouch for light food. As we talked to him, we realized that he was planning to run (yes, run) the exact same route that we were hiking. The difference: we were walking the route in 3 days while he was running that route in less than 1 day.

Now, granted, during this hiking and camping trip, my friend and I planned to spend time with our sons. It turns out that we packed way too much stuff even for this plan. And, that extra stuff weighed us down and negatively impacted our trip.

But, as I thought about the encounter with the guy who was running the trail, I started wondering… What if our plan was simply to make our way along the path? If that was our plan, then all of that stuff severely limited our ability to progress along the trail.

The other man was able to progress along the same trail faster and easier than the four of us.

As I look back on my spiritual journey, I see that I was also carrying along a lot of baggage, stuff that was hindering my progression as I desired to grow in maturity in Jesus Christ. I was told that some of this stuff was necessary. Other stuff I picked up along the way. But, in the end, I was in hindered by stuff that I thought I needed. In fact, the opposite was true – I did not need any of it.

Over the last few years, I’ve found it’s possible to make it along the trail without all of that stuff. Now, it’s true, all metaphors break down at some point. But, I’ve learned alot about myself and how God has changed my view about discipleship and following Jesus by thinking about this man that I met on the Appalachian Trail.

(Once you read my post, and understanding that this story is completely my own, jump over to Dan’s post and see what he has to say…)


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 9-17-2012


  2. 9-17-2012

    In the more touristy areas of the United States like where I’m from there are professional outfitters who will prepare and provide all you need for your trek in the wilderness. Whatever they don’t provide, they’ll tell you: “Bring this,” or “You don’t need all that.”

    This reminds me of what Jesus said, who has outfitted us for our walk in this spiritual wilderness: “…Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” His ‘burden’ is not something we add to ours; He takes what we would have been carrying and gives replaces it with his light burden.

  3. 9-17-2012

    Enjoyed, and can relate. Gives deeper meaning to ( Matt.11:28-30 ). Thanks Alan !

  4. 9-17-2012




    That’s a great addition to this post. Thank you!


    I was thinking about Hebrews 12:1-3 when I wrote this, but that passage certainly applies also.


  5. 9-17-2012

    What a disappointment to have someone offer an account of hiking and then SPIRITUALIZE it…and not even talk much about what you saw on the trip. If you want to spiritualize, why don’t you compare people who hike through beautiful scenery and can only talk about the effort and the weight of their supplies with the way many of us go through life missing the moment!

  6. 9-17-2012

    My apologies…only afterwards did I see this is only one part of a series you did in 2008 and you do give more details.

  7. 9-17-2012


    What a painfully familiar story! Sadly, in my younger days, I helped many on the journey with much unnecessary baggage.

  8. 9-17-2012

    “What a disappointment to have someone offer an account of hiking … and not even talk much about what you saw on the trip.” Perhaps it’s a little harder to pay attention to the sights when you have a heavy pack on. 🙂

  9. 9-17-2012

    If you ever need some good backpacking equipment just start hiking the AT in Georgia in March/April. I hear a lot of expensive hiking equipment gets unloaded. When I was young our family hiked the AT from Harpers ferry to New York on various trips. Then my brother hiked from Georgia to Harper’s ferry by himself. He said expensive backpacking food couldn’t give him enough calories. Got rid of his expensive tent and slept in shelters and on picnic tables when it wasn’t raining.

    You mentioned that the other man was able to progress along the same trail faster and easier than the four of us.

    It is true that the other man could move faster without burdens but their was one burden he wasn’t carrying or enjoying that you were-the burden of community. I have some friends that were backpacking in the New Hampshire. One of them was not physically prepared. The other ended up carrying both backpacks one on front and one in back for part of the time.

    So yes in our Christian walk we do have a lot of baggage that we drag along and so do others. Sometimes we get rid of baggage that others still want to drag along. We also have different opinions of what is baggage and what is not. True love walks along side of each other towards the goal. Love sees the person behind the baggage.

  10. 9-18-2012


    Yes, we went on the Appalachian Trail to spend time with our sons and to enjoy the outdoors. Today, I trail run because I enjoy being in the woods and on the trail. Occasionally, God teaches me spiritual lessons during these activities.

    Aussie John,

    I’ve helped people strap on extra loaded packs also!


    Ah… I had not thought of that. There was one point where we walked out onto big rock that jutted out. We took off our packs to get to that. It did feel good to take those things off.


    I bet the same thing (free hiking equipment) can be found in Maine. 🙂

    The two things you mention are extremely important in discipleship. We must be willing to go at another person’s pace. Today, when I run trails, I would never consider running alone (literally or figuratively).


  11. 9-24-2012

    Great post! I have learned some incredible lessons out on the trail, my time on the trail helped me shed some spiritual baggage (as I shed physical baggage as well!) Thanks for your insight!

  12. 9-25-2012


    Thanks. Shedding physical baggage is very beneficial on the trails. 🙂



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