when burdens + pain get heavy

“And it’s just so hard,” he said to me.


I had only known him for a week at this point, but he humbly opened up when I asked how he was doing. He shared his heart and the struggles therein. Not in a complaining sort of way, but in a weary, despairing, can you help me sort of way.


                         image by Joanna Sue Photography, view more of her beautiful images  here

                         image by Joanna Sue Photography, view more of her beautiful images here

Heavy burdens always have a way of exposing our need. Though our preference is to walk through life handling everything that comes at us, finding a solution all our own, or trusting in our own measures, abilities, intelligence, or will-power, one thing keeps us from succeeding in our independent ways: we were created. And by very nature, we are dependent creatures.


In our sin nature, we oppose this reality, this truth that tells us we aren’t sufficient in and of ourselves. We fight it and we hide it. We’d rather not express our neediness, not unless it gets us something we want (i.e. pity, attention, affection, etc.). Even then, we expose what is true of us – that we aren’t the source. Our worshiping hearts crave what we think will give us life or joy or peace. We crave what only our Creator can supply.


Because what will give us life won't be found within ourselves.


Our need for dependence, when seen through the lens of Scripture, is actually a gift from our loving and good Creator. He intended that we’d never live apart from union and communion with Him. That we’d find fullness of joy, abundant life, and transcendent peace – in infinite measure – simply in relationship with our God, knowing and being known by Him.


But our sin separated us.

                                                          another beautiful image by  Joanna

                                                          another beautiful image by Joanna


No longer does man look to God but to lesser loves, to the gods of our own making and fashioning, to our own selves, to the man or woman to our left or right, a created being, just like us. We think maybe they will be the one to tell us who we are, to save us, and to give us life.


And in the midst of our separation, in the midst of our running, we find ourselves in a wake of pain with burdens that are heavy.


In our quest for independence, we formulate ways to deal with our pain.

See if any of these look familiar:


·      Ignore and hide it.

·      Dwell in it to the point of depression.

·      Protect it, whether by lashing out, justifying it, or simply believing that no one could ever understand.

·      Treat it as if nothing is wrong.

·      Just get through it.

·      Medicate it with anything from drugs to Netflix to fantasies to work to perfectionism.

·      Get angry, grumble, complain, or despair.

·      Project it onto someone else.

·      Make sense of our lives based on the pain we’ve experienced.

·      Live in fear and anxiety.




And we pick up things to carry as we go.


We pick up identity statements:

I’m not worthy because I disgraced my family and myself.

I’m worthy because I’m good at this.

I’m not worthy because I don’t measure up here.

I’m worthy because I haven’t messed up.

I’m not worthy because I've been told I’m nothing or treated as nothing by another.

I’m worthy because I have received the praise of man.


We pick up our pain and carry it around, either bottled up, not to be touched or exposed and open to the world to contaminate.


We hold onto our experiences, whether good or bad, because they are the witnesses to the life that we have.


We bear our problems and we take on the problems around us.


We latch onto things we think will be our hope. We grip them with our worshiping hearts, and before we know it, idolatry turns to slavery, and the shackles grow heavier and heavier.


With no one to help or save us, we bear the weight of our circumstances, our families, our occupations, crippling under the demands that each require.


And maybe the heaviest burden of all, we attempt to lift and carry whatever will make us right with God. We desperately want to be acceptable, desirable, deserving, and worthy (whether we realize it or not), so we make sure to do all the right things until we live either with a stench of self-righteousness or in the pit of despair.

Because the burdens of religion can feel like crushing stones on our consciences.


Heavier and heavier, our pain and our burdens keep exposing our weaknesses, our neediness, our created-ness. And our hearts cry out in desperation for Another to come and give us rest.


                                image by our dear friend, Christine Farmer. Check out her work  here.

                                image by our dear friend, Christine Farmer. Check out her work here.


Then, the most gentle, loving, humble, servant King comes to us.


He is speaking to us: the burden-bearers, the heavy-laden, the weary.


He wants something from us. We are surprised because He does not want our better efforts, our record of attempts at godliness, or even our explanation of how we’ve tried.


He wants our neediness. Our misplaced identity that breeds oppressive shackles of pride and shame. He wants our burdens we’ve tried to bear. Our pain we’ve unsuccessfully dealt with. Our confession and repentance of trusting in anywhere but in our Creator to give us life, hope, peace, joy, and rest.


Aaah, rest. The appeal is strong to the heavy-laden one. But this is not the best part of the invitation.




Come to Me.


This is the good news. The chasm of our separation has been overcome. Our ultimate pain has been carried to the Cross, and the Resurrection testifies that our temporal pain will one day end. Our burdens have been exchanged for light, and we have the opportunity to be yoked to our God once again.


When Jesus says, “Come to Me,” He is making clear to us that we won’t find life apart from Him. We won’t find rest, joy, or peace apart from Him.


No longer can we stay the same. Though our independence still allures us to deal with our pain on our own and carry burdens by ourselves, we’ve tasted the wine and milk and bread without price (Isaiah 55). We’ve savored rest that isn’t fleeting or earned. And we’ve gotten a glimpse of this beautiful King who, before uttering those precious words, “Come to Me,” humbles Himself to come to us.


And although we have trouble believing this goodness, this grace, this redeemed union with our God to be true, we know that nothing else can give us life.


So the invitation to come is to come as we are. Not hiding our pain or gripping tightly to our burdens. And in receiving the invitation to come, we surrender – over and over – our sinful preferences for independence.

We learn that the way to deal with our pain is the same way we enter in – to confess our neediness, to cry out for our Savior, and to walk in step with Him, yoked to the One who bears our heavy load and gives us His rest in exchange. We keep our hearts soft, though pain and suffering would tempt us to harden our hearts in self-protection or bitterness. We refuse these false refuges and in remaining sensitive, we receive His ministry to us - the One who came to bring good news to the poor, to bind up the brokenhearted, to set the captives free, to tell those who sit in darkness that their light has come. We express our poverty of spirit to Christ the Suffering Servant and thus cultivate intimacy with Him in this pain, Him who is acquainted with grief and a friend of sorrow.


We learn to surrender our burdens to the only One powerful, caring, and wise enough to carry them, and we learn to receive the rest that comes when He leads and we follow.


Vastly summarized, I mean neither of these to say that our pain instantly goes away or our burdens become any less obvious. They may linger in this life. But the invitation is here. The King has come. And He gives the kingdom to the poor in spirit. So let us press on to surrender and confess our neediness – the thing that is actually true of us. And let us confess it to the One who came to save us, to give us life in being united with Him once again.

For He came to transform our pain into joy and our burdens to glory.