One thing I’ve noticed about my family is how much we try to protect each other from pain and distress. Sometimes that’s a good thing, done out of love – my mum and I delayed telling my dad about the lump in her breast until it was confirmed as cancer and a treatment plan put in place because we felt that with his memory problems it could only cause him unnecessary anxiety if we didn’t have all the facts to tell him at once.
But sometimes we do it more out of fear – that our loved ones won’t be able to cope or that telling them makes the situation too real for us or that it is a sign of weakness to be unable to cope without support – and the price we pay for protecting them is too high. We are afraid of being a burden. So we keep going independently no matter the impact.
Strange, I do a job that promotes people’s independence and yet independence can be so isolating and impossible, so unachievable. Over the years of my career, I have come round to a different view: that we are designed not to become independent but interdependent. We should take it in turns to ‘carry each other’ as Johnny Cash sang so movingly in ‘One’. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CGrR-7_OBpA
Heather Fignar (#3 link http://www.heatherfignar.com/2018/11/burden-five-minute-friday/in this week’s Five Minute Friday http://fiveminutefriday.com/2018/11/08/fmf-link-up-burden/) reminded me of this, especially the lyrics of Richard Gillard’s ‘Servant Song, the first two verses in particular:
Brother let me be your servant
Let me as Christ to you
Pray that I may have the grace
To let you be my servant too.
We are pilgrims on a journey
We are brothers on the road
We are here to help each other
Walk the mile and bear the load
But it’s more than that. If we let others support and even carry us when we are weak, we give them a great gift with our trust in them.
As my mum grew older, as her health deteriorated, she became dependent on me for both practical matters and major decision making. It was heart breaking to step into the role of mothering her. But it was also her last and most precious gift to me because that is how she taught me to become a mother like her.
And as dementia claimed more and more of my dad’s mind, as he regressed to a naughty schoolboy alternating with an exhausted frail man, again my heart broke as our roles of parent and child reversed. But there were gifts to be found even in this: the chance to see exactly what he had been like way before I was born, to learn more of his and our family’s history as the past became clearer than the present to him, to learn to be more patient and gentle – just like him.
It was hard and painful but they were never a burden. For how could I ever balance out the amount of love and caring they had done for me for so much of my life? Their dependence became their training ground for me to grow up.
But the training continues. As my sons become adults and as my marriage goes on, I, we, are still learning the strength and trust that comes from openness and taking it in turns to lean on each other.
‘My yoke is easy and my burden is light,’ said Jesus.
I’m not so sure about that when I am struggling through difficult times. But I do know that He has given me companions along the way. Sometimes we can completely take the weight, like the friends who carried their paralysed friend to Jesus for healing. Sometimes we can lighten each other’s load for a time with a listening ear, some distraction, or practical help. And sometimes we can help others build their spiritual muscles and grow more of His fruit in their lives by being their weight training equipment ourselves.