Recently, I very nearly burnt out. Some of this was my own doing, taking on too much all at once. Along side work I was writing a dissertation and a chapter for a book and trying to be a good husband and dad and various other bits and pieces. I was feeling pretty stressed, not sleeping well, having palpitations at times (something I’ve never experienced before) and feeling close to tears. Work is full on at times and can be emotionally exhausting, dealing with and loving people in the midst of the grit and difficulties of their lives. I got out of a good rhythm of work and rest and reached the end of myself!
A fellow health professional came to see me feeling much the same way. He said, “Andy, where do we take all this stuff? Where do we take the pain that we carry for other people, the burdens we pick up, the mistakes we make, the emotional baggage that gets placed on us?”
Is it that we become less caring? Do we need to separate ourselves out from the pain of other peoples journeys? Well, maybe sometimes….sometimes we need to have good boundaries in place and make sure we take time to rest and be restored, so we can carry on loving and giving of ourselves. But sometimes, we do need to suck it up, bear with other people in love and suffer with those who suffer. Waking up in the night thinking about the teenager you’ve seen who’s not sure they want to carry on living and spending some time thinking about their family and praying for hope and peace is part of what it means to be human, even when it doesn’t feel great to be bearing that burden with them. Jesus said that the “human one” must suffer much. Suffering because of love. To enter fully into what it means to be human, we cannot avoid the pain of others or separate ourselves out from it. To love is to embrace the ‘other’ to allow ourselves to be moved by them and to see things differently. But if we carry it all in ourselves, we can be destroyed in the process and then we are not much use to anyone.
Where do we take this pain? Where do we lay these burdens? How do we forgive the systems which cause so much anxiety and dysfunction? What do we do with the abuse we suffer? Some people use alcohol or other substances to numb the pain. Some throw themselves into activities as a distraction. Some people disengage with it altogether. Some people talk it through and lay their burdens onto others.
On good friday, I am reminded that there is a remarkable place to lay all my burdens, pain, failings, stress and anxious thoughts: at the feet of Jesus. When I look at Jesus, laying down his life, having confronted the powers that disempower and abuse the multitude, I do not see him appeasing an angry God, rather I see God Himself; suffering in the most appalling way, utterly embracing our humanity and carrying away the pain of our mess with his arms stretched wide in love. I hear his cry of forgiveness for my ego-centric failings, find his grace for the shadow and unhealed parts of my life, see in his eyes a love that knows no bounds and discover a hope that this way of life laid down love brings peace for all humanity.
I love this passage from Matthew 11, found in The Message version:
Jesus says, “Are you tired? Worn out? Burnt out? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me – watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
I love that Jesus is with me in my work, doing it with me and he knows what it is to suffer. I choose again to receive his yoke, not those that others or the system try and place on me and in that, I find an incredible freedom.
A few years ago I wrote this song. Maybe you’ll find it helpful, maybe it won’t resonate with you at all. All I know is that as I engage with the pain of others, I am so glad to have found the One who can really carry my burdens and help me walk in freedom and love.