Jules Verne once wrote an intriguing novel called “The Mysterious Island” that tells of five soldiers who escaped from a prison camp during the Civil War by hijacking a hot air balloon. Their initial euphoria must have been great. Up, up and away! But soon some difficulties arose. As the balloon drifted out over the ocean and the shoreline receded into the distance, the passengers grew more and more concerned about where the balloon would take them. Then with the passing hours their ocean-skimming craft dropped closer and closer to the waves. Desperate to lighten the load, the soldiers began to eliminate their heaviest items. First they tossed shoes, overcoats and weapons overboard to allow the balloon to rise slightly. But before long they needed to lighten the load again, so all their food was tossed to the waves. Eventually, in a desperate effort to stay airborne, the soldiers made loops of the ropes that held the basket, and hanging from the loops, they cut away the basket that had been carrying them. Finally, a gentle breeze blew them toward an unknown island, and the men abandoned the balloon entirely. The reluctant aviators jumped into the sea, relinquishing their refuge in the balloon, in order to swim to safety onshore.
One of the interesting lessons to ponder from Verne’s tale is the recognition that the very things in which we expect to take refuge may be the things we ultimately need to abandon. The things we have collected with the hope they will protect and sustain us may in fact be weighing us down and need to be jettisoned if we hope to carry on.
Long ago the writer of the Biblical Book of Hebrews wrote: “Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.” (Heb 12:1) At first reading we might readily assent to that suggestion. Yes, let’s throw off hindrances and cast off the entanglement of sin. Let’s not let ourselves be encumbered by insignificant matters, by temptations, by heavy or ponderous or pointless or seductive snares. We’d like to think we’d know enough not to be weighed down by all that. But do we? Sometimes it’s hard to distinguish the essential from the non-essential.
Are you carrying anything that you might be better off letting go? It could be something that you’ve accumulated at levels far beyond any usefulness to you. It could be heavy old convictions that no longer uplift you. It could be dreams that have failed to nourish and sustain you. It could be patterns and practices that at some point seemed vital, but now prove harder and harder to justify. Sometimes we’re floating through life with more than we know what to do with and more than is truly beneficial to our well-being. Sometimes we are being weighed down by the very things we hoped would save us.
In what and in whom do you place your greatest hopes? If you find you are working harder and harder to stay afloat in life, perhaps it’s time to lighten your load and rely less upon what you’ve accumulated for your own welfare and protection. Maybe it’s time to rely a bit more fully upon the surprising graciousness of God that comes to our rescue when we’re ready to let go of our own schemes and plans.