About seven years ago, Tyler got a lesson in obedience that he will likely never forget. This Friday had started like any other day where I was trying to get four kids under eight ready to go on a trip for a family wedding. You know, pack some clothes then change a diaper. Pack some more clothes then change a diaper. Pack the toiletries, clean up the spilled Cheerios. Get the ironing board out to iron the dress clothes. Put the baby in the seat so that he doesn’t get into the iron. Try to find something more interesting than the iron for everyone to get into. Let’s face it, at this stage of the game, some of the kids were asking what in the world that thing was that I had pulled out of the closet. The poor kids had never seen the iron. What can I say? If it wasn’t wash and wear, I didn’t buy it and John had long since resorted to using the dry cleaners.
When John came home to pack up the car, I sent the kids out to help him (insert evil laugh here). Apparently, Tyler was helping by pulling every strap he could see in the back of the van. John asked him to stop, but he just couldn’t resist as we found out later. Well, we loaded the whole car with our luggage and went on our way. The trip went fine with only 100 potty breaks between Omaha and Kearney (2.5 hour drive if John is driving and about 3 hours if I’m driving), and the drone of Veggie Tales in the background. Once in Kearney, we unloaded the car and settled in.
The next day, after getting all ready for the rehearsal dinner and piling unsuspectingly into the van, we pulled out of the neighborhood. Once we got going on the main road, we suddenly heard a crash followed by our then 7-year-old son, Josiah screaming,”Tyler! He’s just GONE. He’s not HERE!” If that doesn’t startle a parent, I’m not sure what would. I cried, “What do you mean he’s GONE?” I turned around to see the seat next to Josiah completely flat. I mean there was nothing there. Nothing. That’s okay, if you have the seat down to say transport something, but the problem was that Tyler had been in that seat moments before and had been seatbelted in. The weirdest things go through your mind when something like this happens. Did he fall out?! Was he EVER in the car?! Is he even ALIVE?! Headlines start flashing through your mind like, “Child disappears in family van and is found lifeless and flat.” John started swerving all over the road in a panic while I was yelling, “FIND him! FIND him!” Josiah was in a total panic. I’m sure he was wondering in his seven-year-old mind if he would be next. Well, John finally found a place to pull over and since my eyes were glued to the back of the van where Tyler had disappeared, I saw slowly rising out of the trunk, a mop of messed up brown hair, followed by the angriest eyebrows I had ever seen on our five-year-old. His eyes were clouded with anger and fear, but thankfully he was fine. Being the compassionate mom that I am, I think I laughed for a total of two hours.
What had happened was that Tyler had been pulling the straps in the van even after he was told not to, thinking it was not a big deal. He had set the stow-n-go in motion, but it went undetected because all of the luggage had held the seats in place. Well, when the luggage was removed, the minute we drove on a hill, everything was in perfect place to fold up. We refer to it as ‘the day Tyler was stow-n-goed.’
Isn’t that what happens us on a more serious and less humorous note? We find that in life, the straps on our life are pulled. We sin here and a strap is pulled, we get hurt there and a strap is pulled. The straps of fear, shame, anger, abandonment, hurts, and so many other things get pulled and we try to go on our trip of life like nothing happened. We think if we ignore the pulled straps then those things will just go away. We may even try to deal with those things by piling up luggage in the back of our van – things like walls, vows (I will never allow myself to be hurt like that again), angry outbursts, gossip (often this is a sign of a deeper problem in us), niceness (never wanting to make waves – even ones that need to be made), relational distance, being stoic and the list goes on and on and on. Everyone’s luggage looks a little different. We have the illusion of safety, but the straps are still pulled and eventually we will be trapped because the pulled straps have never been dealt with. We may even think that life is going rather smoothly. Yeah, every once in a while we hit a bump and we feel a little tremor, but then things go back to normal and we travel along without a thought to the problems lurking beneath the surface. Eventually, if the pulled straps are not taken care of, the luggage we have filled our trunk with will not be enough to keep us from being totally stow-n-goed.
As days or years go by, we begin to notice that we are less and less free. That depression we had successfully been able to stifle comes back in full force or that anger we had been able to suppress starts to make its appearance. It could be making its appearance loudly or maybe in a more passive aggressive way, but it still shows up. Maybe the hurt we had so successfully hidden begins to show up in bitterness, sarcasm or relational distance. It could even be that the hope that we used to feel for our marriage, our family, our friendships or even our relationship with God has turned to disappointment. We don’t want to put words on it and sometimes we don’t know how, but when we are alone and if we are truly honest with ourselves, we begin to notice that our seat isn’t quite secure and/or we are already or becoming stuck in a place different from what we hoped for. Some of us will ignore the loose seat and some of us have even resigned ourselves to riding in stow-n-go. Not a great ride to be sure, but at least we’re still in the car, right?
Did you know that we are not designed to go through life in stow-n-go? God has called us to so much more. Will life always be easy? Absolutely and clearly it will not be. You can be comfortable in your car even if there is a bad storm raging outside. Personally, I’d rather be in my seat in a bad storm, than riding through breathtaking mountains in stow-n-go. My point is that no matter what kind of circumstances we find ourselves in life, our heart can be whole, healed and free. We can experience joy even in life’s fiercest battles. On the other hand, our circumstances can be amazing, but if our hearts are broken, wounded and bound we will not ever experience true joy.
Here’s the thing, so many of us don’t want to get to the root of our problem which is the pulled straps. It seems like so much work to unpack all of that carefully placed luggage and then deal with the root of the problem. The root is sin. Sin in us and in others. We have all been wounded by our own sin as well as the sin of others. All of us are masters at hiding and excusing sin, but what if we let God really get to the root and heal our hearts rather than stack up luggage. We think, “I am supposed to be joyful, but why am I really not?” “I know I’m forgiven, but why can’t I seem to get free from this?” etc. First of all, we need to know that we have a God that we can trust. He knows every single part of our hearts and there is not one part of our heart that’s a secret or a mystery to Him. Psalm 139:2 says that He knows our thoughts. Sometimes that feels scary to us, but that actually should be so comforting! We have a loving, kind God who is fighting and has been fighting on our behalf. He bought our freedom at a high price, so clearly that is His desire for us. Galatians 5:1 says that it was for freedom that He set us free. AMAZING!! We don’t have to ride along through life in stow-n-go! God can free us, but we have to be willing to let Him go there.
If we have the wrong view of God, we will never want Him to see our luggage. It’s so important that we understand that we have a loving Father who longs to free us from all that holds us back and help us walk in victory. He hates sin because when we’re living in sin, we are essentially in stow-n-go and can never walk in freedom with Him. Sin causes separation which is why repentance is so important. Also, we need Him to heal our hearts so that we no longer live out of our brokenness. Understanding His love and heart for us is essential to our freedom. Romans 8:38 says that NOTHING can separate us from His love.
A lot of us deal with brokenness in our lives by hiding it, excusing it or ignoring it. When we see something that looks more like luggage than freedom in our life, we need to ask Him to help us unpack it and heal the brokenness hidden there. It’s so important not to hide our brokenness or pretend it’s not there, but to bring it to Him. He knows exactly what to do with it and how to set us free. Psalm 139:12 says that even the darkness is not dark to Him. That means He can see every part of our heart that we don’t understand! Our trip may not and will not always be easy. It will be downright treacherous at times, but our heart can remain at peace when we begin to understand God’s heart toward us and we allow Him to heal those broken places. As we walk with God, He will continually be unpacking our luggage if we let Him. That is the beauty of walking with Him! We never have to be stuck in our heart breaks, sin or brokeness because He has provided a way out for us.