It’s time to serve the stew. Thanks to all of you who contributed ingredients last week for this meal. Today, let’s eat together.
Bearing the burdens of others, so as to lighten their load, is a gift of immeasurable proportion that we give to others.
It’s also a part of life none of us wishes were necessary. Only the courageous (or the naive) need apply.
Last Friday, as I was wandering the hallways of the hospital looking for a blood transfusion, I ran into my friend, Jen Taylor, conducting rounds with her nursing students.
As I had my transfusion, I thought about how vital is the healing, connection, and care that Jennifer is teaching and modeling:
- It honors the recipient by acknowledging no matter how messy they may be, the image of God remains in them and on them.
- It invites us to confront our own fears by connecting to the heart of another who is most likely terrified themselves.
Getting past our own fears and anger to care well for another is a sizable obstacle that is rarely talked about. Here’s a comment I received this week that is one of the most honest things I have ever read:
“Ed…hurting people scare the crap out of me. I don’t know what to do with the questions it raises in my mind about the purpose of suffering…how can God, who is good, think that allowing these people I love to suffer is being good?! How can I keep this ‘goodness’ of God from happening to me?? I tell myself stories that it’s really due to some error on their part because I don’t know how to defend God (mostly to myself) if I think He capriciously doles out this kind of ‘goodness’. I then proceed to take on the roll of ‘fixer’ or I will act the role of the good Christian friend, but really I’m scared…scared they will expect more of me than I can give…scared that they’ll suck me dry…scared of how much I feel like a rotten friend because I don’t want to be around them if all of this craziness is going on in my head.”
I believe burden-bearing, however, also creates deep beauty in what is often a relationally barren world. Let me offer you some ingredients of this beauty from the things you have shared with me this week:
- A person whose neighbor contracted lung cancer spending nights on the floor by the sofa after he could no longer sleep and didn’t want to keep his wife (and small children) awake.
- “One important thing I learned in being the caregiver is that I needed care too. I learned how to care for myself in caring for my Mom….does that make sense?”
- Someone who felt, “Woefully inadequate,” who nonetheless oversaw two relative’s care until the day they each died. “In spite of me and my failings, God raised up from the ashes of my meager offerings of care a love that they both felt strongly.”
- “We try to keep things as “normal” as possible ….if there is a normal!”
- Laughter (see “devious care” story below). Scripture says, “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.”
- “I rely on God, and have learned the difference between that and believing in God but trying as hard as I can to do everything in my own strength.”
- “Acceptance of what is and acknowledging the reality (and the reality IS yucky, bad, scary, crazy/angry-making, frustrating, resentful, self-pitying … and also glimpses at times of grace, love, and peace) , some humor, sharing of every-day stuff, and just plain being there.”
- “I always think the point of suffering is to whine until it is over. But the ‘bearing under’ and submission to Christ is where the beauty is found.”
Here’s a story of (devious) care from my own life:
I was in the hospital once when my roomie’s girlfriend (who worked for FedEx) would smuggle in Kentucky Fried Chicken for us to eat at night.
The ruse worked because it was all very official – uniform, clipboard, and FedEx box (full of KFC).
Considering the food the hospital was serving, she kept us alive (and laughing between bites).
Yes, it may have taken me a little longer to recover from my abdominal surgery.
The bottom line as to why burden-bearing is so difficult?
Autonomy is our default lifestyle – we all wish to run our own lives independently of God and others.
- If that fails us (and it will), we become either bitter or religious (or frequently both), insisting that God fix our lives.
- When that fails us (and it will), we are often furious at our situation and God’s recalcitrance to do anything about it.
- Most often, I think, God responds, “Let’s do you one better than just relief. Instead, I’m going to give you My presence and that of others who will love you well in the midst of your need. You do know you were created to be needy and connected, don’t you?”
This gift (if you are willing to call it that) is the place where great beauty can grow in the midst of deep suffering.
It’s where together we cultivate this odd garden we call life.
“Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.”
– Paul, Galatians 6:2
When I was a pastor I used to visit and pray for cancer patients in infusion centers. Honestly, I couldn’t wait to get out of there.
I was terrified and never would have gone if it hadn’t been my “job.”
Now I’m there as a patient myself – a patient who is running out of options to stay alive.
The irony is stark as I think about it.
Today, all I really want is for someone who is as sad, and angry and scared as I am to stay beside me.
© Ed Hague. All rights reserved.