We Are All Burdens


Catholic, Seven Quick Takes / Friday, November 30th, 2018

Last week during one of my many scrolls through Facebook I came across an older article shared by a friend that talked about “finding God by welcoming the disabled”. A quote she shared from the article caught my eye and has stuck with me since.

“So whether it is the disabled, the unborn, the elderly, the poor, the refugee or anyone else, our attitude is often the same: We did not agree to this. This was not part of the plan. They are burdens. And they are. But we are all burdens. We were once burdens, and we will be burdens again.”

The piece was written by comedian Jeremy McLellan, and his point was that we have constructed a society where our relationships are all by choice, not chance, and as such, we do not tolerate those who intrude into our well planned lives.

I kept thinking of that article as I sat in one emergency room with Fulton, then another. As I watched the hours tick by in which I did not get to eat, or sleep, and occupied myself by answering a continuous stream of medical questions or staring into my phone as the spotty wi-fi allowed.

When people think of why they “could not handle” a special needs child, I’m sure it is times like these that they are imagining. The thought of having their lives disrupted by emergency room visits and hospital stays, of watching their child suffer through an ailment or uncomfortable procedure, is too great a burden to bear in their minds.

A burden is defined as ‘a load, especially a heavy one’, and at first glance Fulton’s needs are a burden. However, carrying them is not an intrusion into my life. In fact the more I take on the burden of loving Fulton, and Teddy, and their obviously great needs, the stronger I become.

You are a burden to someone. Sometimes in great ways, like when you were an infant, or when you are sick, or as you age and become unable to do things for yourself. Sometimes, you’re a burden in small ways. Never assume people aren’t simply tolerating your presence because your needs aren’t as great as someone elses.

We point fingers at the disabled, the elderly, the young, the poor- “Look at them! They’re a drain on society! They’re burdening our resources! Why should I take care of them?” As if because we are not yet a burden on someone, we shall never become one. I hear people talk of their fear of becoming a burden on their families, as if we cannot expect them to love and care for us when we can do nothing for them, as if our value to them and society rests solely on our ability to provide and not our inherent worth as a child of God. Where would we get that idea?

We ignore all the small burdens we thrust on people and expect them to be tolerated because “That’s just how I am.” “I’ve always been this way. I can’t change.” Your anger burdens your children as they move through the house uncertain of what will set you off. Your materialism burdens your spouse as he stresses about the budget and where the money will come from to pay for your newest purchases. Your impatience is a burden on your coworkers who can never please you and who will leave your department at the first opportunity. We are capable of turning away from these sinful attitudes and behaviors, yet insist we cannot, while not tolerating the limitations of the disabled, sick, orphaned, widowed, etc in situations in which they have no control.

Despite having amazing healthcare and medical technology at our finger tips, we resist using it to help the elderly or disabled, instead wanting to save it for the able bodied who may fall ill. Despite our country’s wealth, we balk at the cost of making buildings, public transportation, and community services more accessible. We expect those who are considered the greatest inconvenience to fend for themselves, make do, and accommodate us, rather than share their burden and make their load lighter.

St. Paul wrote:

Bear ye one another’s burdens; and so you shall fulfil the law of Christ. Galatians 6:2

Our Lord spoke:

For I was hungry and you gave Me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave Me something to drink, I was a stranger and you took Me in, I was naked and you clothed Me, I was sick and you looked after Me, I was in prison and you visited Me.’ Matthew 25: 35-36

If we leave the care of the unplanned and unwanted to a secular society, we get abortion, euthanasia, and jails serving as psych wards and homeless shelters. As Christians, we need to welcome the stranger, the poor, the sick, the disabled, the elderly, the prisoner and carry their burden with us even when it is inconvenient, remembering the strength that comes by loving the burden; knowing that the load becomes easier in time, and more than we could ever imagine can continue to be added. A professional weightlifter would never say ” I can’t lift as much as another contender in my division.” He would simply work harder until he could. As Christians, we don’t get to say, “I can’t bear the burden of [raising a special needs child, visiting my elderly neighbor, welcoming refugees to my neighborhood, etc]. We need to welcome and love everyone, knowing the shared burden is lighter amongst us all. We learn to love one another despite anger, pride, impatience, sloth and whatever other sinful burden we bring into the mix.

We are not animals who leave the weakest behind to be picked off by predators. We are followers of Christ who commands us to “Love our neighbor as yourself.” It’s not an inconvenience to practice this, though we sometimes choose to feel like it is. Don’t sell yourself short and believe yourself incapable of loving someone enough to help share their burden. And don’t confuse a person created in the image of God with an inconvenience- a title rightly saved for a traffic jam.

How can you bear your neighbors burden? Who’s burden do you resist loving? What load is God asking you to carry for someone? What burden do you place on those around you?

Feel free to answer those questions, or ignore them and write down something else entirely. Be sure to link it up below and include a link back to this post so your readers can find the rest of the Quick Takes. I look forward to reading your posts!


12 Replies to “We Are All Burdens”

  1. Such a good post. I recently finished two books that touch on this topic and they have been in my thoughts ever since: Being Mortal (non-fiction about end of life matters) and The Story of Beautiful Girl (fictional story about institutionalized individuals in the 1960’s). I’ll definitely be praying for direction to the question, “How can I carry my neighbor’s burden?” this Advent.

  2. This is spot on. And yet it often feels to me that Christians don’t want the unwanted or burdensome. Sometimes the worse things come out of Christians’ mouths! Thank you for your words. May we work together to live the Christian way.

  3. I just pulled an all nighter at the bedside of my six year old in the hospital. I am 41 weeks pregnant with baby number 7 and my exhaustion was intense. But this is so true, I never once thought of caring for him as a burden. I hate to think how selfish I would be without my two kids with special needs!

    Thank you for this!

  4. This is just beautiful… I call to mind a woman I met a few weeks back at a thrift store. She was ahead of me in line, had a rather large quantity of children with her (and a large purchase). She made a comment, to which I responded that I, too, had a large family (8 children). Then we got to talking, and she shared that they had 8 or 9 biological children, the youngest of which had Down Syndrome. They enjoyed this particular child so much that they were in the process of adopting a child with Down Syndrome from (I can’t recall which of these two locales) Romania or the Ukraine. “No one wants them there, ” she said. I’ve been pondering this for these last few weeks. I really believe that is true (that no one wants them), though it’s hard to understand because I know families who are gifted with these children and they really are a tremendous blessing.

    I also recall that shortly after the birth of our 3rd child, our 2nd child had a diagnosis of Type 1 Diabetes. “No more now, ” my (also Type 1 Diabetic) Grandpa told me. All though I like to assume he meant well, there was a hint that if we have more children they will be a burden on us (and the added difficulty of the diabetes). It’s true life hasn’t been easy, but I’ve seen that as our family increases (and the challenges and stretching of our selves), so does the love and the joy. It turns out another of our children (our 6th child) also had a diagnosis of Type 1 Diabetes. Yes, this has made life challenging. Yes, I know our children suffer having to be poked several times a day to check their blood sugar, be given shots of insulin multiple times a day, have their carbohydrates counted, have more frequent doc./hospital visits – and all the other things inherent in managing this life long condition. (And insulin is not cheap – even with health insurance! I shudder to think how we’d get by without it…) Even so, we don’t count the cost. Somehow, God provides and is faithful.

    Another of our children had a recent diagnosis of autism (high functioning), which, as I look back over the years and the intense behaviors he’s exhibited, actually gives us some measure of relief, as I used to alternate between, “I’m a bad Mom,” or, “We just have to put up with this.” (Now we at least have an explanation for the pronounced developmental delays, the extreme anxiety and panic attacks, the over-the-top tantrums, the OCD type behaviors, etc.) Even before the diagnosis, though, I believe that God helped lead us to find ways to address this child’s needs, to call out the best in him (and, in so doing, stretch ourselves to grow in self-sacrificial love).

    Anyhow, I think I’m rambling here now, but thank you for this post. Our world needs the reminder that we are all of inestimable value and worth – even though we may be a ‘burden’ to others. (Besides, the ‘burden’ of the added needs of these children may be just what we need as parents to work out our salvation. So, really, they are helping us get to heaven!)

    A blessed Advent to you and yours,
    Melisa

  5. You know, the timing of this is sort of impeccable. Last week, I had a call with a “disability advocate/caseworker”, and at the end of these, I always feel humiliated. I burst into tears and my parents wanted to know why I was so upset. “Because I’m a BURDEN to EVERYONE,” I blurted out. “No one *wants* me. I can’t *do* anything. I make everyone’s life harder!”

    My parents looked at me and said, “We wanted you.” And they did–they wanted a child so badly, and my mom, in her prayers, specifically said she’d take *whatever* God gave her. She said that she’d take a child with health problems because she’d want to take care of that child.

    Even though I know how much my parents wanted me, it’s still so hard in this world to remember that I was WANTED and LOVED–and I’m not a burden to them.

    1. Emily I appreciate your honest immensely. It’s very easy for me to say disabled people are wanted and loved by God and not an inconvenience or a burden to be born begrudgingly by the able bodied members of society, but it is quite another to live as a disabled person in a world where that message is not believed or practiced 95% of the time. I know that I often yell, or become frustrated with my sons and probably convey the opposite message of what I’ve written above. And it pains me that in the one place where they should feel the most love and acceptance, my sinful nature sometimes causes them to feel otherwise. I hope I can offer loving reassurance to my boys (as your parents have done) when they perceive of themselves as burdens and make up for all the ways we (and society) let them down when we continue to see them as broken parts of a whole, rather than a whole person created in the image of God.

  6. This is beautiful, Kelly. I love how you use the experience of those who we see as “burdens” to society and turn it around so we can reflect on how we are burdens to each other-this is such a humbling thought, and so good to really think about during this Advent. Your post here is particularly timely with something personal that I am going through at the moment, and I really appreciate you writing this so openly and honestly!

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