I cannot Carry all These people by myself
I’ll never forget what my boss said to me on my very first performance review, “Your heart is so huge for people that you sometimes get pulled too far in emotionally.” That comment was in the “Opportunities for Growth” column of my review. At the time, I was relieved and a little confused – relieved because that was the most critical thing she had to say, yet I couldn’t understand why having a big heart was a bad thing.
After that, I began to be more aware of how often I found myself getting fired up over things that I had no control over – hard-working coworkers (and friends) getting laid off, people I loved being taken for granted, loved ones not stepping up or standing up for themselves, fellow Christians being misled by someone they called “pastor,” and don’t even get me started on what I’ve watched my kids go through – the bullying and the breakups have been more than enough to destroy my mama heart.
I admit that I feel deeply for the underdog, but many times, resolution is completely out of my control, and sometimes the “empathy” I feel consumes me. I’ve always thought my passionate compassion was a good thing, so aside from the elevated stress and blood pressure, I still struggled with why getting pulled in emotionally was a bad thing – until recently.
Late last year, I was lamenting to a trusted friend over various loved ones who were in personal struggles, some of which seemed very unfair. I shared how I felt so much for them, fully expecting my friend to agree with me in my emotional distress. Instead, she hit me with an enormous truth bomb. She said, “Katie, why are you carrying burdens that don’t belong to you?” If you know me, you know I’m not usually speechless. So, you’ll love picturing this: I opened my mouth to answer and nothing came out! I had nothing! She was so right! And it got me thinking – why DO I carry other people’s burdens? After thinking it through (and talking it through with my friend), I realized that I CAN have empathy for others and feel for their situation without taking on the weight of their situations. I was reminded of Matthew 11:28-30, where Jesus basically says, “Come to me and let’s trade burdens. The burdens you carry are heavy. The one I’ve got for you is light.” That’s when a light bulb went off! Not only am I not supposed to be carrying the burdens of others, I’m not even supposed to be carrying my own! By getting pulled in emotionally, hurting for others to the point of anger and frustration, I was telling God, “You’re not big enough, and I don’t trust you to handle this situation.” Ugh!
In January (not so coincidentally), as I was compiling my list of scriptures to memorize this year, I came across these:
I cannot carry all these people by myself; the burden is too heavy for me. Numbers 11:14
Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens. Psalm 68:19
They go so well together, that I decided to memorize them together. I was originally planning to work on them in February, but some things happened that caused other scriptures to have more meaning during that time. So I moved them to April. And that’s exactly when I needed them. Here’s why….
In March, my father in-law began having some health issues. He is the caretaker for my mother in-law, so when he started having problems, I started to worry. I started to let my emotions take over. I was not getting enough information. I wasn’t sure about the information I was getting. I was worried about Kenny. I was worried about his dad. I was worried about his mom. I was worried about what’s next. Shortly after that, my youngest started going through a really tough time – something so similar to what I went through at her age, that it rocked my mama heart hard and put me on my face. That’s when I finally felt the weight of the burdens I was carrying. And it was too much.
I wasn’t just carrying my concern for my daughter, my husband, and my in-laws. I was carrying all the “what-if’s” that go with all of the above. Nobody is strong enough to carry all that. So in that moment, I gave it all up. I traded burdens with Jesus and started praying.
OK so, maybe it wasn’t that simple. I had to do some reflecting too. God gently reminded me of the last time I handed something over to him and how faithful he was with his promise. That moment increased my faith just enough to trust him again with what I was carrying. THEN I gave it all over to him, and Just in time because….
April came and my father in-law needed surgery, on top of his existing health challenges. Then came May, and mom in-law was admitted to the hospital. She improved enough to move to a rehab facility, only to worsen and be readmitted to the hospital for testing and treatment. During that time, dad in-law had not improved and needed a second surgery (thankfully, they were both in the same hospital, different floors). I cannot begin to describe the array of emotions I went through watching them deal with their frustration and pain (physical as well as emotional), as they leaned on us, their children, for strength and comfort. As I held his hand, I could barely handle the idea that I was witnessing – no, participating in the changing of roles. We – the children – are now the comforters, the caretakers, the nurturers of our parents. Yet, we are still parenting our own children. It was a heavy feeling; I was tempted to walk in that heaviness, but it was too overwhelming. It was around that time that I wrote in my journal, “I’m not emotional. I’m concerned, but not sad, desperate, angry, or frustrated. I don’t completely understand all that’s going on. I don’t have all the answers that I want. I’m not sure I like the information I’m getting, and I don’t agree with all the decisions that are being made. But I’m good because God is carrying us all, and I trust him to take care of us.”
It is now the end of June. My baby girl is in a much better place. My father in-law is still weak, but he is recovering; mom in-law is back in rehab and doing much better. As I look back on the past few months, I see more clearly how very much I had to lean hard on God for peace, comfort, energy, strength, and yes, even the desire to show up and be present. Because of my reliance on Him, I had the courage to ask both of my in-laws if I could pray over them before their surgeries. They both allowed me to bring His presence into the room, and I prayed protection and healing over them. I know in my heart that my prayers gave them both peace of mind as they went in to their surgeries. I know those moments, as well as the ones before and after when I just sat with them, changed my relationship with them. I know the whole experience has changed the way I rely on God. I hope it has for them too.
In allowing Jesus to take my burdens (including the ones that didn’t even belong to me), He was freeing up my hands so that I could take hold of someone else’s and walk with them in true empathy.
I am fairly certain that our lives will never again be like they were before March 2018. The past few months have marked the beginning of a new season for Kenny and me. Baby girl has graduated high school and is now (as I call it) baby adulting. As our youngest has one foot out of the door, and we see that our parents are relying more and more on us to watch after them. I am confident that I can love and serve through this next chapter without becoming overly emotional because I now know, “I cannot carry all these people by myself; the burden is too heavy for me. Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens.” Numbers 11:14, Psalms 68:19