I was texting with a friend yesterday and was honored to be trusted with a little piece of her story, a little glimpse of the heavy burden she is carrying right now. As our brief exchange came to a close, I told her something I want to tell you all, and it’s that I think a lot of people are drowning a little in plain sight right now.
After I’d moved on with my day, the exchange stuck in my head because from the outside, I’d had no real idea of the burden she was carrying. Social media contributes to that phenomenon, no doubt, but so does the typically frantic pace and kind of insular tendency of modern life, and maybe it’s always been that way and what do I know anyway, a barely-qualifies Millenial with a bunch of kids running around her house and too much time spent inside her own head.
But I do know this, and it’s that everyone I know – to a fault, every single person – is struggling with something, is fighting some great battle.
Maybe it isn’t appropriate to share every detail with every person you bump into, whether virtually or in vivo, but maybe it is appropriate and necessary to share more than we do. We can’t all be “fine” all the time. I actually hate the social nicety more than I can adequately express in words.
Earlier this month my “grandfather” died. He was not my grandfather by blood or relation, but by relationship. And as I stood in line at a grocery store later that night I was crying, and I was mentally chastising myself for crying because it’s so embarrassing to cry in public, and get a grip and pay for this kombucha and get the hell out to your car. And also because grief is weird and it comes in waves, crashing down at inconvenient moments in the produce section and then ebbing back, leaving you red eyed and congested and inexplicably weird for the requisitely surface level social exchange you are summoned to have with this perfect stranger handing you a receipt.
“How is your night going?”
Eyes red and nose visibly running. We both knew I was lying, but what was there to be done about it? I couldn’t ask this total stranger to carry my burden, besides, he could just as likely drop it as pick it up.
You’re not allowed to feel things very deeply or very authentically in this culture.
And if you do, you’re a little weird. A little inconvenient. Too intense. And sure, there are people who are safe and less safe to be vulnerable with, but I’ve always struggled with being vulnerable with even the safest people, and in even the most intimate relationships, because here’s the thing: when you express vulnerability, you are expressing a need that you have to someone, revealing an imperfection that is humiliating in some degree. And pride revolts, sickened by the thought of appearing needy or flawed or frail.
I have found, particularly in this past year as our family has walked through some major challenges, many of which revolve around me and my particular set of wounds in need of tending, that it is precisely in revealing the frailty and the neediness that the generous offers of strength, of prayers, and of support are offered in return.
When we let people see our grossness, our inconvenience, our mess, we invite them in to do something about it, whether through prayer, compassion and accompaniment, or material support. And those are all ways that we are called to live out our Christian identities, to be Christ to a hurting world awash in pain.
So whose idea is it then that we hide our scars from each other, putting on a brave, blank face and stuffing down the pain?
Probably not God’s.
I have seen firsthand this past year that in offering my friends, my siblings, and most especially my dear husband the opportunity to come into my pain and accompany me in bearing the crushing weight of my cross, they are manifesting Christ to me.
And all the times I’ve railed against Him in pain or in searing alone-ness, begging Him to reveal the path, alleviate the suffering…almost to a fault, those have been the moments when I am clutching my pain tightly to my chest, refusing to offer even a sliver of it to anyone else, to some member of His body who could very well be the incarnate answer to that desperate prayer I am flinging heavenward.
My pride and my preoccupation with not being “a burden” to anyone keeps me from hearing His answer, from feeling the merciful touch of His providence through the arms and words of other people. And apart from leaving me marooned in my pain and navel gazing into my seemingly intractable problems, it robs people of the chance to live out the Gospel.
Because if there are no beggars to shelter, no naked to clothe, no hungry to nourish, then this thing we call Christianity is all a rather dry academic exercise in theoretical virtue and tidy maxims for happy living.
Sometimes I am the beggar. Most of the time, it feels like, lately.
And I need to beg, to have my friends drop my mat in through the roof, carry me down to the pool, yell for Jesus to turn around and come back into town, to do something miraculous, to intervene.
And that miracle might well come through another person, who might be perfectly willing to take all your kids for the afternoon to give you break, who might spend hours and hundreds of dollars helping you stage your house to sell, who might spend 10 minutes during the insanity of the dinnertime crunch to hide in her bathroom with her phone and listen to you cry, who might book a flight to come see you, or send some love through amazon that is shaped like earrings, but you know it’s actually a hug.
I hope if you’re carrying something heavy today you have someone you can trust to put a shoulder under the load with you. Whether it’s an addiction to pornography, a spouse with a drug problem, an unplanned pregnancy, a mental health crisis, a job loss, a searing grief, some kind of spiritual bondage, or a hopeless medial diagnosis.
Everyone is struggling with something.
Let’s not struggle alone.
And let’s be bold in receiving one another’s burdens. Let’s be radically countercultural in our willingness to encounter, to lean in, to put down whatever it is that we are presently engrossed with and be eternally present, in that moment of neediness, to the beggar in the doorway.
We are all beggars. We are all broken. And you are not alone.
(A special shout out to my team of prayer warriors who have carried me so tirelessly this year, and who are just a text message away, always willing to take up arms when my pride gives way long enough to tap out a quick SOS. K, E, M, and S, you know who you are.)