Journey Metaphor: What is Essential?

My friend John recently shared with me an excerpt from a book by organizational consultants Nancy Barger and Linda Kirby that uses the metaphor of the pioneer journey to understand organizational change. The metaphor seems to me equally applicable to our own personal spiritual journeys and so I share one particular aspect of what they describe.

As described by Barger and Kirby, those pioneers who took the journey westward were all inspired by a belief that something better would await them at the end of the journey. They packed all of their goods and “essentials,” everything they needed “to recreate their past, to provide a familiar environment, to bring the past with them into the new land.”

As time went on, the pioneers faced challenge after challenge and ultimately it became clear to them that their wagons were too heavy. “They couldn’t take everything with them into their new lives. Priorities had to be reassessed. Possessions had to be reevaluated. They had to ask themselves: Is this essential in our new life? What’s most important to carry with us? What was once useful but now seems just a heavy burden?” And so they discarded many things that had previously seemed to them “essential.”

We hold on to all sorts of things that seem “essential,” but which really hold us back on our spiritual journey. Some of those things may be material…think of the parable of the rich young man, who walked away sadly because he couldn’t imagine giving up what he had to follow Jesus. Others are nonmaterial – attitudes and images or ourselves (or of God) that we hold on to, that may have once served some value, but now no longer do.

Just as the pioneers confronted difficult questions about what to keep and what to give up, there is value in periodically asking ourselves: Is what I’m carrying essential to my new life with God? Are there things I’m carrying that, whatever use they may once have been, are now a heavy burden? What do I need to discard so that I can follow God more closely?

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