The night before a backpacking trip, my father would go up into the attic and bring down three backpacks. One for him. One for my older brother. And one for me.
I was so proud of mine. It was an external frame Kelty with a wide band I’d cinch up tight to properly distribute the weight on my hips. It had tons of compartments for mess kit, stove, fuel tank, all sorts of freeze-dried foods, plus a special place to strap the stuff sack that held my down sleeping bag.
I’d get my Kelty all packed. Then I’d hoist it on, buckle it up, adjust the straps, and walk around the house. My dad would ask me how it felt.
“Is it too heavy?”
“Nope! It feels great!”
But then the next day, after we’d driven up to the trailhead, strapped on our backpacks and started hiking, my backpack always seemed so much heavier than I remembered it feeling at home.
Now, to be clear: I’ve never been an athlete. But I was an active child. When our whole family would go on nature walks, my mother nicknamed me “Cheri the Mountain Goat” because I loved to run ahead and leap onto fallen trees, trotting across their trunks like balance beams. When I was in the great outdoors, I always had plenty of energy to burn.
But as we’d hit the trail for that first day of backpacking up to Dollar Lake, hiking turned into an ordeal of pure misery. I’d spend the entire morning gasping for air, my lungs burning, my legs aching, my clothes drenched in sweat. Finally, we’d get to the top of the mountain and drop our packs.
And that’s when my brother would start to laugh.
I would discover — once again — that the weight of my backpack actually had increased.
Because my brother had a habit of sneaking rocks into the bottom of my backpack.
Not little pebbles.
Not small stones.
The whole way up the mountain, I was fretting: What is wrong with me?
I kept thinking I should be able to do better than this! because I didn’t know I was carrying extra weight.
The Rocks in Our HSP Backpacks
As HSPs, we each have “rocks” in our backpacks.
They’ve been slipped in by other people over the years. But unlike the rocks my brother pranked me with, they’re invisible.
These rocks are expectations: the expectations we were raised with, plus the expectations of the people we now live and work with.
A few of the rocks in my HSP backpack include these spoken (and unspoken) beliefs:
- Your reactions to loud noises, spicy flavors, bright lights, rough textures, and/or strong smells are all in your head.
- You should be able to go, go, go non-stop, without down time or transitions between activities.
- If you’re crying, you’d better be bleeding.
- Expressing emotion is proof that you’re a “drama queen” and “attention-seeker.”
- You should be able to make snap decisions — no sense over-thinking things.
Do any of these feel familiar to you?
Rocks Don’t Belong in Backpacks
In the Sensitive & Strong Community Cafe, we’re discussing the book BOUNDARIES right now, and I find myself wondering:
What would our daily “hikes” be like without all these invisible rocks in our HSP backpacks?
To be clear: as HSPs, we should carry our own backpacks. Galatians 6:5 clearly says “…for each one should carry their own load.”
However, it does not say “…for each one should carry their own load PLUS all the expectations that other people heap onto that load.” Scripture does not give people permission to put rocks in our backpacks.
And please, let’s agree to never use the cliche “whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” against each other … or ourselves.
Lugging around the rocks of other people’s expectations hasn’t “made me stronger.”
It’s worn me out.
It hasn’t “shown me what I’m capable of.”
It’s depleted me.
It hasn’t “helped me believe in myself.”
It’s made me believe the worst about myself.
If you find yourself huffing and puffing along the trail of life, wondering What is wrong with me? I should be able to do better than this!
Know this: Carrying the weight of others’ expectations hurts your HSP heart. It wears you out. It depletes you. It makes you believe the worst about yourself.
This happens whether or not you know those rocks are even there.
How to Remove the Rocks
Here’s where I need to make a rather ironic confession: The first draft of this blog post included these words:
I’m not saying it would be easy. I’m not suggesting that I should be able to run and skip with the same freedom as “Cheri the Mountain Goat” every day of my life.
(Can’t you just hear me trying to deflect the expectations of HSP nay-sayers?)
But then I re-read Christ’s words in Matthew 11:28-30:
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.
Other people put heavy rocks in our HSP backpacks, leaving us weary, drained, and depleted.
But not Jesus!
Jesus’ burden is light.
Which means I can travel light — so light, in fact, that I am able to run and skip and leap onto logs like “Cheri the Mountain Goat” … every day of my life.
You, too, can travel light.
Accept Jesus’ invitation, “Come to me …”
Hand Him your backpack.
Ask Him to remove the rocks.
Trust His promise, “I will give you rest.”
And then — with your energy renewed and your faith refreshed — hike on!