Invisible Burdens

Just the other day, I had to make a trip to Home Depot. Not a terribly unusual occurrence in the life of most homeowners. Some days even call for more than one trip to my “home away from home,” as Joan also calls it.

As I pulled into the parking lot, scanning for an empty parking space, a figure caught my eye. It was the figure of a man struggling with a large package. Because of the distance between us, I could not tell what was in the package, but it was definitely something heavy and unwieldy. 

That guy needs help,” I thought, and hurried to park my car so I could give him a hand. 

As these things usually go, by the time I parked and made my way back to the site of the struggle, the man and his package were gone. 

It was a quick, relatively meaningless episode in my day. And yet despite its utter mundanity, the moment somehow managed to impress two different, important lessons into my skull.

The first lesson concerned our (that is, “guy with package” and my) respective places within the width and breadth of human community. The man in the Home Depot parking lot was a guy who needed help. Period. It didn’t occur to me to stop and ask whether he was a Republican or a Democrat before helping him. I didn’t try to discern whether he REALLY needed help or was just PRETENDING to struggle with his package. His race, his gender, his religious preference, his sexual orientation, his NFL rooting preference, his education, his income, and his citizenship status were all irrelevant in that moment.

He was a guy who was struggling, and I was in a position to help him. Much later, the passage from Paul’s letter to the Galatians came to mind: “Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2, NRSV). 

I couldn’t help but notice that nowhere did Paul include the caveat, “… IF they are worthy.” 

The other thing I learned from my Home Depot parking lot moment had to do with the idea of the “season” for compassion. 

What I mean is, I am sure that most of us in that situation would respond and do exactly what I did… Step 1.) See a person struggling, Step 2.) drop what you are doing and rush over to help. 

Nothing heroic. Nothing super-special. It’s just what folks do.

But then, in the very next breath, I realized that burdens can be both VISIBLE and INVISIBLE. There in the Home Depot parking lot, I could easily see what the guy was wrestling with. It was a big, awkward, probably heavy, cardboard box.

But what about his – or anyone else’s for that matter – INVISIBLE burdens? I don’t know… maybe there are tensions in his home because of COVID, or finances, or obnoxious in-laws. Maybe he was also carrying the burden of trying to shake an addiction of some kind. What if he was weighed down by a mountain of guilt over the way he had treated a son, a daughter, a co-worker, or the Home Depot clerk just now? Maybe he is at the point of not being sure what the real purpose of his life is anyway and is beginning to lose hope. 

Sure… I’m just making all of that up. But isn’t it just as likely to be true as not?

The truth is every person you meet – whether in person or on Zoom – is carrying some kind of invisible burden. 

And so the question then becomes: why wouldn’t we feel just as immediately compelled to rush over and help someone with their INVISIBLE burdens as we are to help with the VISIBLE kind?

Good question. The answer is that we probably hesitate because of fear of not being knowledgeable or trained enough to offer that kind of help. I mean heck, anyone with a broad back can pick up a cardboard box for someone. 

The good news is that we really don’t need to be a trained psychologist or counselor in order to offer that kind of “burden carrying” help. Our help might be as simple as introducing them to the One who said, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28, NRSV). 

Because as we know, the One who carried the cross can also carry anything – and everything – we choose to give him.

Abundant blessings;

7 Responses to “Invisible Burdens”

  1. January 11, 2021 at 5:29 pm

    What a beautiful post Rev. Russ. It teared me up. This post sums up everything I believe when I chose to pick up my cross and follow Jesus Christ. No hard line is uncrossed in my book; not with love as my guide. Now, so you know, I have an embarrassing story that might make you giggle. Due to injuries sustained in a motorcycle accident at 36 (this isn’t the giggling part 😉 and having been rear-ended in my car a few months back, I suffer from neck and lower back injuries. A kind worker at Wal-Mart offered to lift some heavy packages for me into the back of my Subie. Well,…I’m only 50 and she was probably at least 70 (I’m not always good at ages) and I could FEEL a couple staring at me as I appear to be very well-abled to lift my things and I was having this ahem….senior citizen (sorry) lifting my things. Oy vey! I wanted to shout, “My back is bad!” Alas, my confidence comes from Christ; no explanation needed. God bless you!

  2. January 11, 2021 at 7:28 pm

    What a blessing to read this and be reminded that what grace God offers us can be given freely to others carrying their own burdens!

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