What is the heaviest thing you’ve ever picked up and carried? I remember spilling my piano in my front hall a couple of years ago. I couldn’t catch as it went, almost in slow motion, and I certainly couldn’t pick it up – even though my mind and heart were willing, my body was not so much. I know, that’s not surprising to anyone but me I’m guessing. Several years ago I decided to move an 8 ft. bookcase from the second floor to the basement. It was empty, the shelves were removed, what’s the big deal? At least, that was my first thought. I laid it over on its side and got in front of it thinking I could slide it gently down the stairs. All was pretty good until I came to a corner at the landing. I needed to stand it up and twist it around before laying it back down. It was all quite clear in my mind how it should work, I’m no engineer but the picture in my head was quite simple. As it turns out the pivoting of said bookcase on the landing did not go as smoothly as planned and both it and I tilted a little backwards and came down the last few steps together (yes, in other words, I fell). Neither it nor I broke, but one of us ended up with a few bruises, both body and ego. I have this mindset that there shouldn’t be anything I can’t do, can’t move, can’t carry on my own. Why make three trips back and forth from the garage to the kitchen if I can manage to loop all the bags from the grocery store around my wrists and fingers AND still reach up and shut the hatchback and carry them all in on one trip??? Perhaps I’m not the only one?
Maybe that mindset doesn’t only apply to bags and pianos and bookcases. Maybe it also applies to our spiritual and emotional thought process as well. Something happens in our lives that is traumatic or filled with sorrow or overwhelming to our senses and our psyche and we believe we can carry it ourselves. We decide no one needs to know our pain or would likely understand it. No one else has ever gone through what we have, or, they’ve gone through it and dealt with it way better than we are. Everyone else has their life together. Everyone else is stronger, more courageous, more, well, “normal”?!!? Wow, right? We human beings are a piece of work. I think in our culture particularly, we’ve invested in the whole “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps” mentality and that strength comes from the “Hi-Ho Silver, Away” mentality of the Lone Ranger defeating all potential threats and adversaries. Remember he had a partner!?! But then that’s a whole ‘nother conversation for a whole ‘nother time, right?
I was in a learning group one time on death and dying and one of the exercises was putting three of our desks together to form a triangle in the center. We then took notecards and wrote a word on each one that we considered a strength, or a talent, or a part of our self-worth. Then the leader started reading a story about a person who was diagnosed with a chronic illness. She would read a few lines and then tell us to drop one of our notecards into the center “abyss” of our desks. Then she’d read some more and tell us to drop another couple of our cards. By the end of the story when the main character experienced their last breath, we’d lost everything that we had named as a strength, a talent, and a part of our self-worth. Then she asked a couple of questions, “Do we have to lose nearly everything before we realize that we need one another for support and help and courage to walk through this life the best we can? Could it be instead that it is in partnership and community we come closest to the unique person God created us to be?” How real is that for us in this day and time?
What I’ve noticed, perhaps more this year than for a long time, is that the holidays are a time for both joy and often a sudden realization of the heaviness of the burdens we are carrying. Some of us are carrying burdens that we’ve had for many years and the heaviness has become nearly too much to bear. Some of us carry weight that is more recent and are not only shouldering our own, but trying to carry weight for the people we love as well. Still others of us are walking with baggage that is more tiring than debilitating, but sharing it or letting it go feels like it might be disrespectful to a memory, devaluing of an experience, or erasing part of an identity with which we have become most comfortable.
If that’s us, what do we do? I think first, we recognize and name and admit that we carry burdens – acknowledging it for ourselves can be en-lighten-ing and self-revealing. And secondly, and this is more risky, we decide to share that we have burdens with others. Sarah Bessey, in her book, Out of Sorts, says we all have to have our “somewheres.”
“We all need somewhere to say the private things, the vulnerable things, the scary and true things, the victories and the defeats. ‘I need somewhere,’ we say. So then the temptation is to say everything, everywhere, or we end up saying nothing, nowhere. There’s something between oversharing or undersharing our real lives. I have learned – slowly, painfully – to say these private things to my Somewheres.” – Sarah Bessey, Out of Sorts, pp. 112-113
Somewhere we can go and be ourselves, somewhere we can say all the things we need to say without fear of judgment or condemnation, somewhere we know we will be accepted and heard and loved, somewhere we can share our burdens and baggage and the weight we carry that keeps us from ourselves. By the way, if we have spouses and/or partners that are the somewhere that’s great AND!!! It can’t be the only one! BUT WE WANT IT TO BE… BUT WE EXPECT IT TO BE… BUT IT’S SUPPOSED TO BE… BUT IT’S THE EASIEST… Okay, good luck with that. I don’t mean to be mean, but… one person cannot be all everything no matter how great they and the relationship are, they just can’t. We must risk building vulnerable community. That does NOT mean we tell everyone we know everything. It DOES mean we are intentional about finding a handful of folk with and for whom we connect, trust, and are trustworthy – our “somewheres.”
With that community of somewheres, we are gifted with differing perspectives, with grace-filled availability at different times, and if we share carrying one another’s burdens the weight is more equally distributed. If I might be so bold, Jesus didn’t have a community of one – initially he had the twelve he called – none of them perfect, but all of them became family, support, community. In addition we see him form friendships with Mary Magdalene, Lazarus and sisters Mary and Martha, with whom he was vulnerable enough that he wept upon experiencing both Lazarus’ death and Mary and Martha’s grief (John 11:35). There were the thousands of other followers who were disciples, but he had those with whom he was more intimate – his somewheres – with whom he shared the road that led to joy, struggle, celebration, anger, frustration, hope, and ultimately his death and resurrection.
Whether the burdens we are carrying are heavier now than they’ve been in awhile, or light enough that we are managing just fine thank-you-very-much; whether they are recent and sharp, or deep and abiding over many years; whether they stand up and shout to us in the light of day, or wait until 4 AM to echo a familiar chorus of self-accusation and defeat; we can decide to acknowledge they exist and risk sharing the weight somewhere. And what if in the sharing we find ourselves able to let some burdens go or find a way to simply carry them differently? We have a God who “gets it”, you know? And who, by grace, loves us now and seeks to love us into an abundance of life that is awaiting our acceptance. What might that be like? Maybe it’s time we find out…