“Once I Laid My Burden Down”

Rev. Julie Kain

Unitarian Universalist Church of Pensacola

Now I would imagine that among those of us gathered here today, some of us may be feeling too busy in our lives right now. Maybe most of us feel this way. There are always so many details to attend to: bills, appointments, groceries, cleaning the bathroom, mending the broken chair or torn favorite shirt. Then there are the demands on our time that come from our jobs, our families, our community commitments. Oftentimes we feel pulled in many directions at once and yet somehow we muddle our way through our “to do” lists, calendars and date books.

And yet while this is certainly true for many of us, there are some among us who genuinely do not feel busy enough. “How can this be?” the busy ones ask.

Well…perhaps some among us are honest about the deeper question of “how are you today?” which is “how is it with your spirit?” And when they check in with themselves – their minds and hearts and bodies – there is a sense of longing for something more. Perhaps it’s a sense of direction or perhaps it’s a genuine desire for closer companionship in their lives.

When I talk about it this way, I bet that even the folks who identified with feeling too busy can resonate with a sense of longing for something more as well.

We humans are growing beings. Always reaching somehow toward whatever kind of light in our lives draws us taller.

While many—if not most of us—do long for a clearer direction, a simpler path and a closer companionship with another along it, many of us are also carrying specific burdens with us along our ways.

I bet almost every one of us has some kind of pestering, nagging issue that we may have even been carrying around with us for years.

Now the range of things that can weigh us down is wide. Before I start talking about some of the familiar ones, I want to pause a moment here to let you see what comes to mind about you in your own life, in case something didn’t immediately pop into your head.

What’s the thing that has gotten you hooked with worry, that has made your mind go round and round while stressing your body in its particular stress point—maybe headaches, or tight stomach, or aching knee?

Probably all of us here today have something we’ve been chewing on for some time. Guess what! Join the club, that’s what it means to be human. So instead of always feeling annoyed about these parts of our lives, sometimes major ones, that aren’t working right maybe sometimes we can stop to appreciate that this is where our real personal and spiritual growth happens.

Not in the comfort zones, but in the annoying discomfort ones of our lives.

Now let’s look at the familiar sets of issues that weigh us down as burdens. First – there’s people and relationships. It may be at work or school or it may be at home. Maybe it’s your brother who lives across the country from you who you haven’t really talked with in years, or maybe it’s a neighbor who always seems to rub you the wrong way.

Second is all the issues related to our feeling of security, physically and financially. Are you worried that your job may be phased out? Or perhaps you’ve been looking for work and just can’t seem to find the right thing or even anything at all? Some of us here may be worried about losing our homes – not being able to keep up with bills or maybe the responsibilities of keeping up the place. Some of us are trying to figure out how to apply our education and life experience to work, while others are struggling with the transition to retirement. All kinds of everyday challenges are the burdens we are carrying round with us today.

The third category of issues that present us with challenges to our growth are issues of personal well-being – our emotional, mental and physical health. This is just another of the territories which come with the equipment we were issued as human beings. Not a single one of us has escaped facing some kind of significant health issue at some point in our lives, right?

All this is to say that we share a common humanity through our day to day struggles of moving through life. We’re all in the same boat of struggling to meet the challenges that come our way. It is a very big boat.

Not only have we all faced a vast array of human challenges, I’d venture to say that most if not all of us assembled here have faced—and somehow miraculously overcome—major obstacles that have appeared on our life paths.

Whether it was a difficult childhood, an unexpected trauma, a loss of a loved one or the painful end to an important relationship. Perhaps it was the loss of a job or an exciting opportunity. Maybe it was an addiction that started out as a simple coping mechanism and grew out of control. Or perhaps it was a physical affliction that for a time overshadows the rest of our lives.

Everyone is presented at one time or another with a major obstacle in their lives. It hold us back from doing lots of things we’d like to do, while preoccupying our minds and hearts as we search for ways to get past them, or simply to make it through intact.

In this room, we have courageous human beings who have lived through war and abuses of all kinds. We have those who have triumphed through the dark despair of losing a child, the wrenching grief of a loved one’s suicide and the horrible sentence of terminal disease. We have friends among us who have been forced to adapt their lives to physical disabilities and barriers of all kinds that have prevented them from pursuing their deepest dreams.

We humans here are a complicated lot. We have known our share of burdens to carry.

And yet, we are survivors.

The resilience of the human spirit has graced every one of our lives at some critical point when we thought surely we could not go on. Life has taught us each in our own ways the basic techniques of holding on when the winds are raging round us.

Eleanor Roosevelt who had both an immensely difficult and an immensely rewarding life was known to say this -“You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’” Roosevelt assures us with these words – “You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”

We have to be careful and vigilant as we face life’s greatest challenges not to fall too deeply into a mode of finding blame – either with ourselves or others.

In Wayne Muller’s book which we heard from earlier today called Legacy of the Heart, Muller relays a story about Jesus. By the way, the subtitle for Muller’s book is “The Spiritual Advantages of a Painful Childhood.” Muller wrote “Some people once brought a blind man to Jesus and asked him, Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind? They all wanted to know why this terrible curse had fallen on this man. And Jesus answered, ‘It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be made manifest in him.’ He told them not to look for why the suffering came but to listen for what the suffering could teach them. Jesus taught that our pain is not punishment; it is no one’s fault. When we seek to blame,” writes Muller, “we distract ourselves from an exquisite opportunity to pay attention to see even in this pain a place of grace, a moment of spiritual promise and healing.”

Some people in their lives end up feeling battered, wounded and sometimes crippled by life’s challenges, but most of us can recall, if we allow ourselves to, the often hidden gifts and strengths we have received and earned by living though our hardest times.

We have been given a new passion to appreciate the simple joys of life, and sometimes even the courage to pursue our deepest passions. Our difficult experiences have taught us a profound understanding of what others in similar circumstances are facing and wrestling with. We can offer a genuine hand of comfort and support to those in the midst of their own crisis.

Here’s a true story by author Dawna Markova from her book called No Enemies Within. She wrote“When I was in the hospital, the one person whose presence I welcomed was a woman who came to sweep the floors with a large push broom. She was the only one who didn’t stick things in, take things out, or ask stupid questions. For a few minutes each night, this immense Jamaican woman rested her broom against the wall and sank her body into the turquoise plastic chair in my room…Of the fifty or so people that made contact with me in any given day, she was the only one who wasn’t trying to change me…she just looked and saw me. Then she said simply, ‘You’re more than the sickness in that body.’

“Without any instruction from me, this Jamaican guide had led me to a source of comfort that was wider and deeper than pain or fear.

“It’s been fifteen years since I’ve seen the woman with the broom” Markova writes, “I’ve never been able to find her. No one could remember her name, but she touched my soul with her compassionate presence and her fingerprints are there still.”

It’s important for each of us to remember that we are always more than any of the burdens we are carrying. We are more than our greatest insecurities, more than our disabilities, more than any of our current challenges, or healing scars from the past.

We can keep ourselves busy with meeting all the demands and obligations of our every day lives, but I hope that each of us can slow down every once in a while, long enough to appreciate all that we’ve been through in our lives, and the people we have become because of it. May we be able to rest in the quiet every once in a while, feeling connected with our struggling brothers and sisters and yet being able to put our own burden down for a time. In the quiet, may we find a peace of mind, a peace in our bodies, and a peace like a burning flame within our hearts. May we be nourished by the peace for a time and strengthened… for when we take up our burden again.