How Heavy Is Your Knapsack?

Jesus of Nazareth…went about doing good.

–Acts 10:38–

When I was in college, a friend gave me a book containing the following allegory.  I have long since forgotten the book’s title and the name of the author, yet the parable has remained with me now for more than forty years.

It is dusk.  A young man is standing at the edge of a vast desert.  As the sun is setting, God appears to the fellow and hands him an empty backpack.  “Cross the desert by night,” the Lord commands, “but do your best to fill this knapsack with the stones you find along the way.  Collect as many as you can.  Go, son, for the night may be shorter than you think.”

Well, the man sets out dutifully filling his backpack with stones both large and small.  After a while, however, his burden becomes pretty heavy.  He begins to take notice of other people on the same journey.  To his right, he sees a woman with a tiny backpack hardly one-third the size of his own.  On his left, he spies a boy making only half-hearted attempts at collecting stones.  The young man thinks to himself:  Hey, this isn’t fair.  Why do I have such a large backpack, and why should I burden myself more than I have to? Why not take it easy?  Why be so hard on myself? I’ll fill my backpack, but I’ll wait until just before sunrise to do it.

No sooner do these thoughts cross our protagonist’s mind than the sun begins to appear on the eastern horizon.  The traveler realizes, quite unexpectedly, that he has also come to the end of the desert.  He sees God waiting for him.  “Empty out the contents of your backpack,” the Lord instructs.  The young man complies, and as the stones cascade from the knapsack, the morning sunlight catches them and makes them sparkle.  Each stone, it turns out, is a precious gem—a diamond, ruby, sapphire, or emerald.  “Do you see these?” the Lord continues.  “Each is a good deed, a kind act, a virtuous choice, a sacrifice made on behalf of someone else.  Happy the man who is able to fill his knapsack with such gems!  In life, they are the soul’s offering to me.  In the afterlife, they are my gift to the soul.”

If only I had done more on my journey for God and for others! the young man laments to himself.  His regret is profound.

The older I get, the less sure I become about much I once regarded as certain.  I used to know so much when I was young!  There are, however, two truths about which I have absolutely no doubt.  First, We do not know the day nor the hour when the Lord will call us from this life (Matthew 25:13).  Second, it is up to us to make the most of this life by doing as much good as we possibly can in the time given us.  It matters little whether our time on planet earth is long or short, whether we are gifted with many talents or with few.  What matters is the good we do with what we have been given in the time allotted to us.

Unfortunately, far too many people today pride themselves on finagling as many benefits as possible from the world while doing absolutely nothing to improve the world.  It ought not to be that way with us.  We must have a philosophy of unbridled altruism.  We must try to do as much good as we can with what we have in the time we have been given.  Quaker missionary Stephen Grellet has left us a wonderful modus operandi.  Can we make it our own?


I shall pass this way but once.  Any good, therefore, that I can do, any kindness that I can show—let me not defer nor neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.


We need to ask ourselves some searching questions:  Do I have an entitlement mentality?  Do I pride myself on getting people to do things for me rather than on doing things for others?  Is my philosophy to be served rather than to serve?  Or am I filled with a sense of Gospel urgency—trying to do as much good on this planet as I possibly can in the time God gives me?  Rather than wasting my life in selfish pursuits, do I follow the example of Jesus (Mark 10:45) and serve rather than be served?  Do I carry my cross instead of becoming a cross?

Finally, how heavy is my knapsack?