Dr. Jon R. Roebuck, Executive Director
I once heard a story from the days of the old west. It seems that a cowboy was making the long walk back to his ranch, carrying a load of supplies in a burlap sack that he had slung across his shoulder. The journey had been long and hard. His feet ached and his back was tired. The dust from the dirt road covered his clothing from head to toe. Mixed with his sweat, the dust made a gritty ring around his collar. A friend was traveling the same road, riding on his buckboard wagon which was being drawn by a horse. He recognized his friend and pulled up beside him on the road. “Hop in! Let me give you a ride,” said the neighbor. The tired cowboy quickly took him up on the offer. But when he climbed up on the seat of the wagon, he kept the burlap sack slung over his shoulder. The friend said, “Why don’t you set your sack down and rest your back for a while?” To which the old cowboy replied, “You are kind enough to give me a ride today, I’ll just keep carrying my own sack.”
There are times when life gets overwhelming. From time to time all of us have to shoulder a heavy load of concern, grief, fatigue, or pain. No one is immune from the day-to-day struggles of life. The load can be overwhelming at times… back breaking and soul stealing. In such moments, it’s always meaningful to have those friends who will come along beside us and help us to carry some of the burden. But there are some burdens that have to be borne alone. And that’s hard.
I have a friend who now carries such a load. His life is burdened by a situation with a family member that he will have to carry for the rest of his life. And he will carry it well. He’s strong and full of faith… but he’s also human. He will get tired. He will become weary. There will be days when he will want to do anything to put down his burden but he can’t. It’s with him for the duration. And what is frustrating for those of us who know him is that we can’t really make it any better. All we can do is pray faithfully, encourage verbally, and understand compassionately. My friend is not to be pitied, but accompanied for some of the journey. I can’t rest his back from his burden, but I can sit and listen and offer the solace of human understanding.
I am reminded of the Old Testament story of Job. Job’s life goes to “hell in a hand-basket.” In the course of a single day, Job loses all of his livestock, servants, and ten children. Even as he mourns, he is afflicted with horrible skin sores. Four of his friends show up to offer their support. They sit with him in silence for 7 days. No one speaks. No one tries to “fix” his grief. They just surround him and let him grieve. It would have been enough. He would have found some comfort in the sheer presence of his friends. But then they do try to answer his grief. They suggest that his problems are a result of his sins, or those of his children. They suggest that God is punishing him. Job becomes so irritated that he calls his friends “worthless physicians” who “whitewash their advice with lies.” (Job 13:4)
I hope that I’m a better friend than that. I hope you have better sense as well. We can’t fix everyone’s pain and we sure don’t help when we try to “fix blame.” Sometimes those who are forced to shoulder an oppressive load, just need for us offer only our presence and not our judgment. Sometimes we simply need to accompany them for part of their journey. I can’t fix the pain in my friend’s life… no use in even trying. But he will know that I haven’t forgotten his plight, nor neglected my daily prayers. I’m not going to preach empty words of hope nor quote pious sounding expressions. I’m just going to be there when he needs me, even if it means sitting in silence as he weeps.