For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? Matthew 16:26 (NASB)
During my work as a Humanitarian Aid Worker in Northern Afghanistan in 2000 and 2001, I learned many valuable life lessons, one of which I will share in this post.
It was the spring of 2001 and I was departing on a survey trip to a very remote area in Badakhshan province, Afghanistan. A trip such as this was not uncommon, but the route we were taking on this expedition had not been travelled by anyone we knew. In fact, we had been asked by the senior United Nations official in the region to collect a considerable amount of information on the living conditions in the area, and brief him about our findings when we returned.
Packing did not take long because we were not bringing our horses, and we could only carry with us what we could transport on our backs. Due to the many unknowns of the journey, I was instructed by my superiors to exchange $100.00 USD into local currency to carry with us. Unfortunately, for a single hundred dollar bill, the Seraf (money changer) handed me a gigantic stack of afghan money the size of two bricks stacked on top of each other. The large mass of money I loaded into my pack weighed over 11 pounds, and it suddenly made sense to me why British currency was tallied in Pounds.
On our first day of walking, the money on my back was practically unnoticeable. My body was rested, my legs were strong, and my feet were in good shape. However, the path we were on winded its way through the Hindu Kush mountain range, the ancient passageway traveled for centuries by enterprising traders and invading military personnel. This very same region was bursting with snow-capped mountains that soared as high as 25,000 feet, and which had taken the lives of many travelers in its widely chronicled history.
Needless to say, day two of our journey was not as easy as day one, and by mid-afternoon I was sore, exhausted and my feet had started to blister. The third day was the most difficult day up to that point, and the first time I thought about the heavy stack of money I carried on my back. I mentioned to my Afghan traveling companion that I hoped to soon find a shop where we could buy something. It did not matter at that point if it was food, tea, a new donkey or a bus ticket back to our office… I would buy almost anything that would lighten my load. On day five we had still not passed a single shop and the people in that area seemed to have no need or desire for my money.
In Afghan culture, honor is often measured by the hospitality of the host. That is very nice until you find yourself in the highest mountains of the world and carrying 11 pounds of money that no one will accept as a gift or as payment for food and supplies. Ultimately, my entire body was beginning to pay a hefty price for the burden I carried. The 11 pounds of money might as well have been 11 pounds of rocks, as neither helped me while I journeyed over countless mountains and through endless valleys, day after day.
It was near the end of our first week that my cleverness inspired me to do something about the pricey encumbrance I carried on my back. Knowing that no one would freely accept my money, I elected to excuse myself from our hosts on a regular basis and make my way to the tashnaub (outhouse). Once I was left alone to relieve myself, I would do just that. I took wads of cash and stuck it into the walls and ceilings of the outhouses or hid money under nearby rocks so that others would not find it until after we had left their village. I convinced myself that what I was doing was a blessing our hosts would one day discover and thoroughly appreciate. In one home I hid money under a cotton mattress, only to have the owner chase us down and frantically give it back to me, obviously thankful he caught us before we ventured too far away. How badly I wanted God to rid me of my burden… and therein lies the irony.
The journey would have been difficult enough with nothing on my back. Yet, I walked for many days carrying something other people convinced me that I needed. As a result, my body broke down and I failed to fully delight in the stunning sunsets, the flawless sunrises, and the panoramic sights that I encountered along the way. Far too much time was wasted before I finally realized that I needed to lighten my load and rid myself of the financial burden I had been carrying for so long. Although it was not easy to give it all away, when I did so, my steps became lighter, the miles became shorter, and every day became more satisfying than the last.
The takeaway is this, the thing we often rely on to provide us with comfort and contentment in this life, may actually be the primary thing robbing us of just that. The longer we carry that burden, the more it hurts us and the more we pay. Perhaps today is the day you finally decide to do something about it… don’t waste your energy or your joy carrying a burden you were never intended to carry to begin with.