Is it possible to love a suitcase? After all, it’s an ordinary black Samsonite carry-on that I’ve had for at least fifteen years. I’ve spent more time with my suitcase than with almost any other possession I have. It’s my home away from home. It has gone with me on mission trips, to annual conference and denominational meetings, home to see family, on retreats and on vacation.
My suitcase is probably the best friend I’ve ever had, outside of humans: faithful, dependable and flexible. And it’s pretty beat-up right now, with a huge crack in one of the wheels. “Some friends play at friendship, but a true friend sticks closer than one’s nearest kin.” (Proverbs 18:24) Years ago I attached a Christmas ribbon with red and green dots to the handle so that I could more easily identify it among other similar suitcases. I also have a bright green TSA lock. I can cram my suitcase into the overhead bin, sit on it to get the zipper closed, allow it to be drenched and drag it around the world, and still it will not complain or resist.
Come to think of it, my suitcase is a metaphor for life, for it contains everything that is important as I journey. Each time I travel, my packing list reminds me what is essential and what I need to let go of. It is brutal in defining the boundaries, accommodating only a few extra items for each trip and encouraging simplicity. I know exactly how much discretionary space to leave in my suitcase for gifts to those I am visiting, knowing I only have that same amount of space for purchases to bring home. I especially like the extra strap that attaches my backpack to the front of the suitcase when trekking around the world.
My suitcase also grounds me. It’s plain, sturdy and functional. Nothing special, just like me. No matter where I go, the suitcase always contains an alarm clock, brush, zip lock bags, snacks and a flashlight. “I am the light of the world.” (John 8:12) I also use the side pockets to hold all of my cords: laptop or iPad, cell phone, pedometer and earpiece. “I led them with cords of human kindness, with bands of love.” (Hosea 11:4)
More recently, the Bible app on my phone occasionally replaces a pocket Bible. I adore the nooks and crannies of the suitcase and know all the tricks for fitting in several suits, shoes, workout and casual clothes, cosmetics, books and work materials. In short, the suitcase symbolizes my call to travel lightly through life and take only what is necessary. “Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money – not even an extra tunic.” (Luke 9:3)
I promised my suitcase that I would never check it and thus risk losing it in the bowels of airports in Nashville, Allentown, Tel Aviv, Johannesburg or Sarasota. “And, remember, I am with you to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20) Which brings me to my confession. I betrayed my suitcase several weeks ago for the sake of convenience.
Flying home from Portland to Seattle and then on a red-eye to Detroit, I decide on a whim to check my suitcase. I have four hours to spend in the Portland airport and don’t want to lug my suitcase through all three airports when I will only get a few hours of fitful sleep. Knowing how special our suitcase-human relationship has become, I ask for and receive assurance from Alaska Airlines reps that there is plenty of time in Seattle to transfer my suitcase to the next flight. “Finally, brothers and sisters, farewell.” (2 Corinthians 13:11)
In Seattle I walk briskly for a mile from one end of the airport to the other in order to make the red-eye to Detroit. I like carrying only a backpack, yet there is a vague sense of unease. Is my suitcase really going to make the transfer? Did I make a mistake in checking it?
I ponder the nature of baggage as I walk. What baggage do I need to release and let go of in order to live a healthy life? I do not want to carry around judgment, bitterness, despair, hopelessness, pride or the need to always be right. Nor do I want to drag along anything that is not critical to my personal mission statement or that does not align with my faith.
On the other hand, I want to make sure that grace, empowerment, assurance, vulnerability, forgiveness, humility and Holy Spirit power are all tucked away in the corners of my heart. “By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22) I remember with joy that the purpose of my suitcase is to serve.
We land in Detroit at 6:10 a.m. in the midst of a passenger health crisis, and I pray for the person who is ill, even as I attempt to wake up. Because I’m at the back of the plane, I reach the baggage claim after everyone is gone and my suitcase is nowhere to be found. “For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.” (Matthew 19:10)
I’m sick about it. I feel as if I let my suitcase down. “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me.” (Matthew 26:21) Not only is my suitcase lost, but it feels as if everything I hold dear is lost as well. I go to the baggage claim office, submit my claim and receive a receipt with a website where I can track the delivery of my suitcase from start to finish, wheresmysuitcase.com.
Fifteen hours later, the suitcase is delivered to my doorstep in perfect condition. My green lock is still attached, and nothing is gone. “Did you miss me? Were you scared? I promise you, it will never happen again. Will you forgive me?” “Rejoice with me, for I have found my suitcase that was lost. Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” (Luke 15:6b-7)
The season of Lent begins on Wednesday. Lent is that time of the Christian year when we intentionally slow down enough to ponder the state of our spiritual lives and Jesus’ call to repent, for the kingdom of God is near. It’s a time when we fearlessly lay out our personal baggage, hold close what is important for a life of faith and release everything that prevents the love of Jesus from shining through us.
It’s also an opportunity to reassess our collective baggage as a community of faith. Will we leave behind criticism, stereotypes and assumptions so there is room for seeing with new eyes, the grace of compromise and the hope of unity? Don’t assume that an old, battered, ripped suitcase no longer contains reconciliation, healing and hope. Might we even dare to think outside the suitcase?
What’s in your suitcase this Lent?