“Ruck up men.”, the beady eyed Ranger Instructor bellowed. The air was crisp, the mood tense as I slung the hundred pound green pack over my head and slid my arms into the web straps. The pack creaked as the weight settled onto my back. Shock waves of pain shot down my arms as the straps dug into my shoulders. This was just a taste of the discomfort to come.
It was the year 2000 and I was a Ranger Student in the second of three phases at the U.S. Army’s Ranger school, a 61 day experience designed to teach leadership and small unit tactics. This was the Mountain Phase, and along with the thirty other men in 2nd platoon I “rucked up” or put on my very large Army issue backpack to begin the first of many patrols in the mountainous terrain of Dahlonega in Northern Georgia.
A patrol is the military’s term for a long, miserable walk in the woods. The Army has a way of transforming any enjoyable experience into a nightmare. This little jaunt in the forest was no exception. We climbed the intensely steep mountains all day and most of the night. To avoid detection, hiking on trails and talking was strictly forbidden. I still have a scar on my left hand from the thorns that ripped into my skin that day as we clawed our way through the underbrush. Each group of 9 men, called a squad, was responsible for carrying a collective amount of equipment, weapons and supplies to the “objective”, a point in the woods where we fought a simulated battle with another group of soldiers pretending to be enemy combatants. Each Soldier hauled his own food, water, extra clothes and other provisions. Additionally, the squad distributed the shared equipment, like machine guns, extra ammunition and medical supplies. Survival meant working together. Mission success depended upon the entire group of men and equipment arriving to the objective, ready to fight.
After weeks of long walks like this I learned lots of important lessons about walking in the woods but one stands out.
Never carry more or less than you need.
In life, as in patrolling, we mustn’t carry more than we need for our journey. Things have a way of weighing people down. Despite what the world will tell you it is entirely possible to have too much.
I recently shared a meal with a very rich man. He has everything in the way of material possessions and yet he is a lonely person. His wealth causes him to be suspicious of everyone. He has many servants and few friends. He has lots of money and no one to spend it on. His is a miserable existence. His rucksack is too heavy.
I also know people who don’t have enough. In the poorer communities near our house I meet people who struggle to provide the basic necessities for survival. Their rucksack is too light.
If my wealthy friend and my poor friends were in a Ranger squad the answer would be simple. Those with heavy packs would let those with lighter packs carry some of the load. There would be this intense focus on the mission, on arriving to the objective together. There would be an innate understanding that the stuff in our rucks is there to help us accomplish our mission. The equipment has no value unless it is used for it’s intended purpose.
But somehow in the church we miss this simple lesson. Some of us strain and buckle under the weight of our money and possessions while others struggle to scrape together the basic necessities to survive.
I think it’s because we lose sight of our mission.
We are a people on the narrow road, sojourning towards the new heaven and the new earth. This is our reality, yet we often live as a people who have no where to go. We are a missional people, called to move together, follow our Jesus and invite others to join us.
I love the story of Jesus’ encounter with the blind man named Bartimaeus in the Gospel of Mark. Jesus and his followers are on a journey to Jerusalem. Bartimaeus is one of many spectators sitting along the side of the road. As Jesus passes by, the blind man calls out to Jesus, “Son of David have mercy on me!” The disciples and the crowd try to shut him up. They are embarrassed because he is making a scene. Suddenly, Jesus stops. He turns to face the blind beggar and tells him to come. Without a second hesitation, Bartimaeus leaps up, leaving his cloak behind and runs to meet Jesus who heals him. The thing that really gets me about this story is that Bartimaeus leaves his only possession, a cloak, behind. He follows Jesus with nothing. He is a man on a journey.
I am inspired by my memories of Ranger patrols to live as one on a mission. My prayer is that Jesus would cause me to thirst for him so that I see my life properly as one on the narrow road. I pray that he gives me the wisdom and the courage to pack appropriately.