Anyone who has been backpacking, has had to carry heavy luggage for a significant amount of time, or has paid extra baggage fees has experienced the importance of traveling light.
While studying abroad for a semester as an undergraduate student in Austria, I quickly learned this lesson, in order to make the most of weekend travels in neighboring European countries.
A bulky hairdryer or a hefty novel was quickly identified as nonessential in carrying a backpack through cobblestoned streets. Having a pack that was too heavy would make the trip less enjoyable — and in some cases might keep you from going the distance by foot. You wanted to “lay aside every weight” (Hebrews 12:1) before heading to the train station.
In welcoming the new year, a common choice of resolution is to lose weight or to work out. While maintaining a healthy weight and getting exercise are salutary goals, another one to consider is spiritual “weight loss.”
What is spiritual “weight loss?” A good place to start is to look to the Scriptures: “… let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:1-2).
How might we identify these “weights” the author of Hebrews is calling us to lay aside? These things that keep us back from “running” the course of the Christian life “with perseverance,” from keeping our eyes and our lives directed to Jesus? Or, paraphrasing part of the Holy Mass, from lifting up our hearts to the Lord? They are things that impede our freedom to truly love and serve Christ and neighbor.
The first place to start in a spiritual “weight loss” program is to get rid of sins (the confessional is a great place for spiritual “weight loss!”). But as Hebrews hints, we need not stop there. There are also other “weights” in our lives that aren’t really sins, but that still hinder us in running the race and keep our hearts from the Lord. In this category, we can include what St. Ignatius of Loyola would refer to as attachments.
We can be attached to a number of things: chocolate, social media, hobbies, or “doing what I want to do when I want to do it.” While these things may not be sinful and may even be good, they can at times gain a disordered place in our lives so that our attachment to them keeps us from our ultimate goal. St. Ignatius speaks of man’s aim being “to praise, reverence and serve God our Lord, and by this means to save his soul.” Everything else is to be used toward this end.
Perhaps there is something that needs to be put in its proper place so that I can better love and serve God. Maybe the Lord desires my heart even more than my losing some extra pounds. If nothing else, this is something to humbly bring to prayer: What does the Lord desire of me this year?
In another part of the Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius provides us with three helpful questions to consider while keeping an image of the Lord before us: “What have I done for Christ? What am I now doing for Christ? What ought I do for Christ?”
These questions can be helpful, both while making a retreat and when considering what little bit more the Lord might be asking of us and considering what weights might be cast aside.
Ultimately, whatever weight or clutter we eliminate from our lives should serve to cultivate greater freedom to do good and pursue our true goal: to lift up our hearts to the Lord. May we run so as to win, and may we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus.
Laura Dittus writes from
where she serves as a theology adviser for EWTN.