Unencumbered. According to the Oxford Dictionary, it means “not having any burden or impediment.”

A link in the search window to a vocabulary website also asked “Can a person be unencumbered?” The answer given: “A person is unencumbered when they’re traveling light – they’re not struggling to carry 5 suitcases. But if you have no worries or responsibilities, you’re also unencumbered – nothing is weighing on your mind. In both senses being unencumbered means you feel light: either literally or emotionally.”

Couldn’t we all do with a little bit more of this? I know that very few of us can lay aside all responsibilities, and we wouldn’t really want to would we? I love being a mom, I love serving clients, I love being a part of my church body. I don’t want to lay all of those things aside, no matter how heavy they may seem at different times.

But there are some things I’ve carried for far longer than I had ever dreamed, things that are heavy, that are impediments – obstacles to moving forward, to moving on, to moving out, to being free. They make each step of the journey of life feel heavy and burdensome. They weigh on my shoulders like boulders and can sometimes wear me out before I’ve even begun each day. Pains from the past, griefs from life’s losses, weights from responsibilities I didn’t handle as well as I’d wished, questions of what I should have done differently, what if’s and maybe’s and shoulda, coulda, woulda… they have lain on me like heavy weights. Until recently.

I’m walking through a season of becoming more unencumbered. It’s a miraculous thing. But I’ll be honest with you. It wasn’t a season I went into with open arms and readiness to lay things down. I have to confess, I am a creature of habit – to my own detriment at times. I don’t typically relish letting go of things. Though recently we had a very large load of garbage hauled away that had been hanging around far too long. Living outside the city limits makes transportation of large waste an issue. That big pile of garbage, I had no trouble letting go of and I am very much enjoying its absence! It had begun to not only take up half of the garage, but it was taking up mental and emotional space that kept me from accomplishing other tasks by its sheer presence. Those heavy impediments I mentioned are a lot like that large garbage pile. We try to hide that old broken chair and unneeded box springs in the garage, out of sight. And maybe they don’t make every day hard, but they do take away the freedom to use your garage for anything other than a place to dump your too-large trash.

“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” Hebrews 12:1

The NIV says “let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.” I like that imagery – throwing off. I like it because it seems like it should be easy, as simple as tossing a softball around. But when the thing you’re throwing is the size of a rocking recliner, ‘throwing off’ takes quite a different ‘look.’ Then it becomes a lot more like pushing, tugging, inch by difficult inch, pulling and tugging and heaving that heavy thing up into a truck bed. Driving miles away, and then pushing it out with all your strength. And when the thing you need to ‘throw off’ is something you don’t really want to let go of, it can be an altogether different scene.  It becomes a slow taking away, sometimes prying it from our fingers as we hold on in fear and worry. What will replace it? How I will I get on without it? Lately, I’ve felt more of that latter scene in my ‘letting go.” It’s hard, but I’m doing it!

At the same time, I’m feeling this new feeling – this lightness, this freedom. It’s remarkable really. The more the freedom feeling grows, the more I embrace letting go. Letting go of bad habits – learning to eat better, leading to a healthier version of myself, a lighter version of myself. Letting go of things in our home – cleaning out clutter and removing items we no longer want, need, or use, and finding clarity of mind and openness in our home we didn’t even know we were missing. Letting go of plans, strategies, and directions that were no longer working, and seeing the Lord lead in new ways. Letting go of thoughts and fears and pain, and finding healing for my mind, heart, and body in the process. I think I’m starting to get good at this letting go thing!

I began writing this at the beginning of the fall. The day began with cool temps and leaves beginning to fall, but it’s only the beginning of the fall season. As I watched the trees release their leaves, and watch them float to the ground where they will decay and return to the earth to nourish the soil, to make the very tree they fell from thrive in the years to come, I’m reminded that letting go is as much a part of our Christian journey as accepting is. And though we sometimes wish we could hold on to things a little longer, the death that comes from letting them fall into His hands – and away from us – will also bring us new life in the seasons to come. We’re tempted to see a single tree in early winter, with no leaves blowing in the wind, and only think of death. But what if we looked at it as a moment for the tree to rest, laying aside its heavy load of leaves and the work of growing, preparing itself for the newness of Spring that will surely come? What if losing is not nearly as much about loss as it is about preparing a way for new things? Would we let go of the things that encumber us more easily then?

Fall leaves in early morning dew

Remember what that verse said after the “laying aside” or “throwing away” everything that causes you to stumble part? It goes on to say “…let us run the race that is set before us…” It’s awfully hard to run a race riding a pack mule. They just aren’t that fast, or safe at high speeds. They are prone to fall when the road gets narrow. They need to rest when the road is long and hot. They move slower and slow you down, or cause you to stop altogether when they come up lame from trying to carry more than they should for longer than they should. If you’re going to race, you’ll want a thoroughbred. A horse optimized for speed, stamina, and strength. Lean, not carrying any extra weight to slow it down, no baggage hanging off every side.

“…fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:2

I’m so thankful that I don’t have to do all this ‘unencumbering’ on my own. It is Jesus who is the perfector of my faith. I can lean on Him when I am feeling too weak to let go of another piece of baggage, when I feel too exhausted to clean out another cupboard, when I feel too rushed or forget my value and want to just cook an unhealthy meal. I can lean on Him, and He will perfect my faith. The Message says it this way:

“Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed – that exhilarating finish in and with God – he could put up with anything along the way: cross, shame, whatever.”

And I know if He could put up with the cross and shame and whatever, I can surely continue on my journey to becoming unencumbered, throwing off everything that hinders…