Life has been unbearably difficult for a long time. I’m just going to be honest about my perception here, however skewed it may be. It’s a rare occasion that anything goes well for us. Each time I think I can’t possibly take any more, more piles on. This last month has been no exception. Jason and I were both extra sick around our anniversary, with his chronic illness becoming more pronounced. Then our dog got sick and stole much of our sleep for days. Right after that, I got the flu for ten days. During that time, disability started harassing me again, threatening termination. Prior to the flu, I already felt defeated. Then I felt kicked while I was down. Let me rephrase that. I felt beaten to a pulp while I was already down. In the midst of my growing bitterness I could only think, “God is supposed to be bearing this unbearable burden, right? Where is He?”
“Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens.” – Psalm 68:19
That verse seems pretty clear, right? I understand the concept of God bearing most burdens as long as I’m willing to lay them down. But what happens when my burden is my body? How can I possibly lay my body down at Jesus’ feet when I still have to drag the thing around with me all day? I couldn’t shake the thought that the body is the one burden we aren’t able to lay down.
“Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.” – 2 Corinthians 5:1-4
I don’t know if I’ve ever related to anything more than this passage. I groan to the point that I’m tired of hearing myself groan. I ache for the day when mortal is swallowed up by life. I can’t wait to throw off this bodily burden… but what do I do about it in the meantime?
God opened my eyes to the misconception I’ve had about what actually happens when I decide to let Him carry a burden. When I lay a burden down, I expect to be relieved of it. I expect to feel better. But let’s say my burden were a loss of some sort. If I gave the burden to God, it wouldn’t remove the loss I feel. I still wouldn’t possess the thing I’m grieving and that lack would hurt. I may receive God’s peace and comfort in the midst of it but I would still feel loss. Similarly, if I give God the burden of my body, there’s a good chance it’s not going to make me feel better physically. So, why lay it down? What DOES allowing God to carry my burden do for me?
If I lay my body down at the feet of Jesus it’s probably still going to hurt, but it means I’m allowed to feel and express that hurt without guilt or fear. Not only that but I can pour out the hurt to the One who has ultimate compassion. In addition, I am free to do only what my body will allow, without condemnation for it not being enough. I can also stop trying so unbelievably hard to find the reason for my suffering (What did I eat? What did I smell? What did I look at wrong?) You should hear the constant checklist of questions in my mind with each symptom felt. When I lay my bodily burden in the strong arms of Jesus, I can stop trying so hard to live perfectly (diet, absolute environmental control, avoidance, etc) in order to get better, because the burden of healing no longer rests solely on me. I swear sometimes I truly believe that if I accidentally mess up one tiny time, I’ve ruined my life forever. God certainly does not want this constant condemnation for me. I can lay down the notion once and for all that continual illness is somehow my fault. Shame is automatically cast out. I can focus more on looking forward to my glorified body rather than fighting against the one I’m living in. It seems ridiculous that I would ever be able to focus on eternal things while the temporal things scream for my attention, but I think that’s part of the gift. “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day” (2 Corinthians 4:16). When I work on rewiring my brain to think on eternal things, it more easily takes the constant focus off the physical. Then maybe, just maybe, joy can finally return.
It seems the over-arching theme of what we experience when we lay our burdens down, even bodily burdens, is freedom. NOT freedom from discomfort or pain, but freedom from condemnation, perfection, striving, control- things that cause utter exhaustion and defeat. We are released from the tremendous pressure of depending on ourselves to fix it. Of course it’s normal to wish God would remove our pain and discomfort, and it’s appropriate to pray for that while submitting to His will. If you think I was able to lie on my flu bed and think, “God I sure am glad you’re not taking away this excruciating bodily pain because I know you’re working on healing my heart,” you’re crazy. Jesus asked for His burden to be removed the night before He died. But God is able to see the more important healing we need and sometimes, rather than clearing the pain from our lives, He clears the destructive burdens from our hearts. There’s so much more to unpack here… and hand over to Jesus. But for now let’s end with what Scripture says the Lord gives us in return for our burdens.
Rest: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” – Matthew 11:28-30
Sustenance: “Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall.” -Psalm 55:22
Peace: “I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” -John 16:33
Uplifting: “The Lord upholds all those who fall and lifts up all who are bowed down.” – Psalm 145:14