Thursday, August 16, 2012

How To Lay Your Burden Down

We don’t always know when we pick up the burdens we may carry throughout our lives. If we saw them on the side of a road somewhere, we might slow down and ponder, stroke-our-chin, glance into our eyes in the rear-view mirror, even stop and shift into park, and then, all things duly-considered, drive on to leave them for some clean-up crew to handle. If we saw them on a shelf for sale, we might jingle the coins in our pocket or almost pull out the debit card, consider that we would have to dust them and arrange them if we took them home, realize they just eventually become so-much clutter, so we might admire them on the shelf and walk away. If someone offered them to us on a street corner, we might graciously nod and decline with a "no thanks, I don't really need that," and cross to the other side.

But we don't find them sitting in the sun on the side of the road on a Sunday drive through the countryside . . . or on the sale rack in the store beneath a sign that reads "Burdens at Rock-Bottom prices," or in the outstretched hands of a stranger at the curb saying "please take this."

We accumulate our burdens in much more subtle ways, a stumble here and there, a curious foray into unexplored territory, a letting down of the guard in a needy moment. Or maybe, as we journey along, some of them are crammed into our backpacks by someone else when we were momentarily distracted, or given to us in change returned during a misguided selling of our soul. Regardless, we pack them in and carry them on, a collection that weighs us down and saps our strength, sometimes bringing us to our knees. We shift them on occasion for comfort . . . and perhaps we ourselves sit on the curb and offer them to others, but we keep them nonetheless.  Sometimes they're shared and diminished a bit; sometimes they're shared and multiplied.

I picked one up through another's "generosity" in the early '60s when I was sexually abused.  He had enough burdens to divide them among others and he gave me my share and soon went on down the road to gift his burdens to others to bear, laying us down like little mile-markers along the road on his journey into darkness.  

I picked another one up in the early '70s.  It disguised itself as an answer to a gnawing need instead of as the key to an open door to a hell-on-earth.  Once I walked through that door and stepped inside, despite my natural inclination to flee, I discovered an equally-natural inclination to hang on to that burden to serve as a doorstop to keep the door behind me open so I could return whenever that gnawing might lead me back down the path.

Our burdens intertwine and strengthen each other and almost always present themselves as answers, not roadblocks.  Before we realize they're burdens, they seem more like gemstones.  Like a hapless contestant on a game show who makes the choice to open one more briefcase or go to the next round of challenge, we often lose all because we are grasping at what seems so rewarding.  We want more.  For many of us, the need to be needed, the want to be wanted, the longing to be longed for, the desire to be desired, the craving for acceptance, the purely innocent comfort of not being rejected, the being noticed, the addiction of affirmation, the fuel of "love" --  phony or not -- propels us into over-achievement in our burden-collecting.

For me, the door opened on a foggy corner in the drizzle of a past-midnight walk on a college campus when the door of a Volkswagen opened and a smiling driver offered me comfort and a dry ride out of the soaking night of self-pity and loneliness in which I was wandering, self-absorbed, but presenting myself like a sponge, daring someone to care about me.  And he did.  And I allowed it.  And I left a little block of burden in the doorway so I could return when again the grey descended and the fog rolled in.  I thought, "no harm." 

Or perhaps I didn't really think at all.  That's the thing about burdens.  The care and feeding of them become so consuming that we find little time to consider the process of unencumbering ourselves until we are so cumbered we cannot spare the energy.  We must instead figure out how to make sure no one sees what we are carrying.  We rationalize at some point that no one wants to see them.  There is no curb on which to sit; no garage sale to hold; no bargain-basement low enough.  They're ours.

Much like watching a tree grow outside my office window-- from wind-bending sapling to steady, shady oak -- we don't see how our burdens grow.  We've stashed them into a sack of secrets that, though itself invisible to others, becomes so heavy it nevertheless presents us to them as someone stooped in soul.  They may not know why; they may suspect; they may have ceased to care, having been whacked here and there by a cloaked burden that fell from the pack through our clumsy packing and shifting.

Then again, a well-meaning hand may reach in on occasion.  Looking into our eyes after just a glimpse into our box of burdens, he asks "What do you have in there? Can I help you with that?"

Like a threatened child with a favorite toy, we may have responded with a confusing mix:  "These are mine!  I mean, there's nothing there."  And we resolve that no one will catch us lazily laying the stack within their reach again.  And we close a door, a door through which someone may have been trying to squeeze because of their own prodding of the Holy Spirit to go beyond the threshold and walk into our lives.

Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. -- Galatians 6:2

But wait a minute, we say.  My burden is not like the others.  It's not a house blown-down by a hurricane.  It's not a lay-off.  It's not the sorrow of a family-member's untimely death.  It's not a cancer cutting short my life.  It's not a broken marriage.  It's not a sick child or a parent with Alzheimer's.  It's just not one of those recognizable burdens.  It's.  It's.  It's . . . a giving in under the weight of a sin I can't seem to . . . bear.  Like a burden?  And we look at our ugly burdens, which somehow lost their shine and turned black and moldy. And we think about the grime and the mess that might rub off if someone gets too close and tries to bear with us.  "No."  And we renew our determination to keep the lid on and prevent future spills.

Then, one day, an explosion occurs and some get hit full-force by the crud.  Others stand helplessly by and try to dodge the seeping and the spewing.  Others project the long-term damage yet-to-come.  Others point their fingers and levy their penalties.  

But the burden is still there.  Uglier than before, wider and deeper, spreading out no matter how hard we try to gather it back up;  the sack in which we carried it is torn and useless, and one by one the burdens tumble out into full view.  We trade shrinking beneath their weight, to crumbling at our fate, a new burden spawned by the vanquishing of secrecy.

This is a pivotal moment where some give up and some give in.  Instead of giving away.

In the mid '70s, about the time I was learning to hide and bear, I was gripped by a song by Chuck Girard called Lay Your Burden Down.  It played over and over in my head, but I also bore another burden, a refusal to trust.  "I just can't do that," I would tell myself, each time I would loosen the tie upon the bag.  And I would retreat, usually through a door of escape I had left open to keep me from entering the healing realm of transparency.  Blast my resolve.

You've been tryin' hard to make it all alone
Tryin' hard to make it on your own
And the strength you once were feelin'
Isn't there no more.
And you think the wrong you've done
Is just too much to be forgiven
But you know that isn't true
Just lay your burden down, He has forgiven you.
-- Chuck Girard, 1975

We think the wrong we've done is just too much to be forgiven?  Maybe that is why we don't lay our burdens down, but instead wait until they are laid out, spilled like an overturned truck on the Interstate, news helicopters hovering overhead, while we head for the ditch to hide.

Another burden we bear is the thought that we have gone beyond the limits of forgiveness.  When we take inventory of the precious burdens we have protected, we are blinded by the enormity of them.  We fall into the trap of thinking that Christians -- limited by their constant brushes with the reality of earth -- represent the limits of heaven.  There are none.

If we don't accept the truth of forgiveness, we'll just keep replacing our burdens with the familiar lies that prompted our collecting in the first place.  We'll be looking for looks of love in all the wrong faces.  

Bring it out. 
 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. -- 1 John 1:9

Trust Him with it.  
Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions.  -- Psalm 51:11

Leave it there.  
As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.  -- Psalm 103:12

Replace the burden. 
Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more. -- Hebrews 10:17

If we confess it . . . if we give it up to God . . . if we believe He has forgiven us . . . if we build a new life that does not revolve around the burden we once bore . . . we can lay down the stifling burden and breathe the better air.

First . . . gift the if. Give that to God. The sentence becomes shorter: Confess . . . give it up . . . believe . . . build . . . breathe. 

No ifs about it.


I'm not a fireside singer from la-la-land. I know this sounds too simple. I have volumes of personal evidence from my own life to testify that it is extremely challenging. Especially that "build a new life" step. But . . . if you don't, then the burden you hate becomes the life you live. When you lay it down, view the void, measure what it will take to fill it and find suitable alternatives that uplift rather than wear down. You may have to grow into them or allow them to grow into you.

I think many times, for those of us who struggle with something as deep and penetrating as a war within ourselves that we think that other people, or even God, are the daunting wall that blocks our paths to freedom.  Often, it is instead a wall of mirrors, reflecting back to us the choices, the walks down blind alleys, the decisions in the dark.  We don't, or won't, forgive ourselves.  We know there are consequences for sins and we think that chief among the consequences are these burdens we just have to bear.


God says we can lay them down.  In the meantime, the Word says our brothers and sisters in Christ can help us bear them.  If it takes a little traveling, even a stumble here and there, to get the burdens to the Cross, don't refuse the help.  Ask God to bring people into your life that will help you bear.  Ask God to remove people from your life who are piling on or pulling you back down.

God listens. 

He is the only One who can stop the world so you can get off.  And into His arms. 

And . . . that is how you lay your burden down.

In Him,


1 comment:

  1. As always, your experience and wisdom is a blessing. Thank you for the simple list of scriptural promises. They are such a help in my daily walk with Jesus.