The load we carry can get too heavy, and we can breakdown. But we can grow through it when we have others who will watch with us.
I needed help. I vividly remember the day I rang emergency services. I had come to a point where I knew I couldn’t carry the load by myself anymore. I had been beaten down emotionally and needed help.
Every one of us is different. We all have different tolerance levels and abilities to handle what life throws at us. For some, they seem to be, for want of a better word, hard and tough. Nothing seems to break them. They have built a toughness around themselves, and nothing seems to get to them.
Then others are more sensitive and soft. They are more open to getting hurt. With enough poundings from the fist of life, they can be pummeled to the ground.
We need both groups of people, and I would say that each can learn something from the other.
Which group do you think you would be in? What would those who know you well say about you? Soft or hard? Tough or tender? Maybe somewhere, in-between?
The load that’s too heavy
Every one of us, at some point in life, will come to a place where the load gets too heavy to bear. It’s what you do at that crucial moment is vital.
For me, it was calling emergency services. I knew that there was nothing I could do within myself to dig my way out. I needed others to help me. I was sick, unwell, and required those who had skills, knowledge, and resources to help me rebuild.
For a brief period of my life, I was receiving support from Mental Health Services. It was good, and it was what I needed. The stress load had become too heavy for my fragile human frame to handle.
In the garden
In one of the most precious stories from Jesus, we find him when his load was too heavy. It was before his crucifixion, his agonizing death where all the pain of the world would be loaded on his shoulders.
That is a heavy load, one only the God of the universe could handle. Yet, in his fully human, fully divine self, he invited us into his expression of load-bearing.
Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”
Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”
Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter. “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.”
When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. So he left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing.
Then he returned to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Look, the hour has come, and the Son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners. Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!” Matthew 26:36-46
At that moment of deepest anxiety and fear, he wanted community. Yes, there was the prayer to his papa, but there was also an invite for closeness with friends. He asked for three of them, Peter, James, and John, to step aside and watch with him.
He wanted connection, someone of human form that was going to be physically there with him.
We value rugged individualism, the self-made man or woman, independence, yet God needed others. God, in the form of Jesus, exposed his vulnerability and need for community.
I don’t want to be alone when I die. When someone close to me died of cancer a few years ago, we as a family took turns sitting by her bedside as the heavy load of cancer ate her life away. We watched with her. She was not alone.
What is your heavy load
We all carry a load, a pile of stress, worries, and pressures. Sometimes it can become overwhelmingly heavy, and we can feel ourselves being crushed under the burden.
We need someone to watch with us. Some loads can’t be shifted easily and may take time to lessen. Some we will carry every day of our lives.
Guilt, shame, loss, traumatic memories are but some that many of us bear.
None of us will carry the sin of the world on our shoulders, as Jesus did, and so, in a relative sense, our burden is light, but it can still feel too heavy to handle.
I am watching with
We need others who will say, often without words but in actions, these words.
‘I know the load, and I am going to watch with you.
I’m not going to try and fix you, save you, advise you, or try to straighten you out. I want you to know that you’re not alone’.
I often would like people to tell me their load. Not that I can do anything about it, but I want them to know they are not alone with it. That the life-sucking aspect of the weight is shared, I want to ‘watch’ with them.
When the load is shared, it feels reduced. When someone else knows the heaviness, then you’re not alone to carry something you were never meant to carry alone.
Perhaps through prayer, a way forward can be known. A flickering candle of hope can emerge in the dark of the moment, and we can stumble our way forward together towards it. That’s what I think Jesus wanted on that dark night.
Watching in the garden
Not everyone is safe. Very few people will not try to fix, save, advise, or try to straighten you out.
What I would like to suggest is that you become one who can quietly watch with others. To ‘shiva‘, like Jobs friends, before they went rogue.
We don’t need others to watch over us like controlling authoritative policemen, but we do need others who are deeply aware of their humanity and can sit and watch with us.
It takes self-awareness, patience, and confidentiality. There is also a need for grit and openness to the divine and their work within all of us. There is a lot of good that can come out of the garden.
Quotes to consider
- Patience is the very shape of love. Without it, religion is merely about enforcing laws and requirements. Richard Rohr Patience
- Entering someone’s life is hugely different from merely guiding them. Larry Crabb
- There is a solution to “unspeakable loneliness”: it needs to be spoken, to be shared. Ron Rolheiser
- When spiritual friends share their stories, the others listen without working. They rest. There’s nothing to fix, nothing to improve. A spiritual community feels undisturbed quiet as they listen, certainly burdened . . . but still resting in the knowledge that the life within, the passion for holiness, is indestructible. It needs only to be nourished and released. Larry Crabb, Becoming a True Spiritual Community: A Profound Vision of What the Church Can Be
- No one person can fulfill all your needs. But the community can truly hold you. The community can let you experience the fact that, beyond your anguish, there are human hands that hold you and show you God’s faithful love. Henri Nouwen
Questions to answer
- What experiences have you had of heavy loads breaking you?
- When someone listens well, what do they do that makes the difference?
- When the load is shared, it makes a difference. Can you think of a moment in your life when you experienced this?