If you do what I do, people tell you their stories. Their stories sometimes amaze me, sometimes humble me, and sometimes, their stories break my heart.
A few weeks ago, a man with all his hair and a flat stomach told me a year ago he attempted suicide. On the outside, he looked so put together. He was better now, he said, but the darkness still crept up on him.
A man I respect broke down weeping as he talked to me because his wife went to the doctor and heard the word "cancer." I always thought this man was the tough type; his tears surprised me. "I don't know what I would do without her," he sobbed.
I was out walking the dogs, and a couple I know drove by. They stopped, and we chatted. Before I knew it, they were telling me their worries about one of their children and that child's sexual orientation. They were struggling: How did they reconcile their faith and the love they had for their child?
A friend of mine, whose skin color happens to be a different color than mine, told me how he worries about his grandson, who just got his driver's license. "I've told him if he gets stopped to be polite and do what the officer says, but what if something goes wrong?" he says. "I just don't know what I would do if I had to bury my grandson because someone else made a mistake."
I got an email from a man who read something I wrote. He told me his story, how both his sons ended their lives by suicide. The heaviness in his heart was in every word. He told me some days were better than others, but most days were still hard.
It has been more than 50 years since she opened the door to the Army officer who brought her news that her son was killed in action in Vietnam. She's a small woman, quiet. Most people don't know how she mourns the loss of her only child, who died at 19, in a flawed war.
She was weeping on the couch in my office. Her husband had left her for a younger woman. She stammered over and over, "What am I going to do?" She wasn't talking about raising her kids alone or making ends meet. She was talking about the dam-busting flood of emotions swirling in her soul.
We passed each other in the hall, and I asked, "How are you?" She said, "Not too good." That's a cue to stop and listen. Then she told me she had miscarried earlier in the week. It wasn't the first time. "Why can't I keep a baby? What's wrong with me?"
I hear stories like these again and again. Sometimes I wish I possessed a magic powder that would take away the pain. I wish I could speak magic words and their burdens could be lifted. Despite what you may have read in Harry Potter, magic isn't real.
What I can do is what Jesus did: I can be with them. When one of Jesus' friends, Lazarus, died, Jesus made the journey to be with his sisters. Yes, he did the miracle of raising Lazarus from the dead, but before he did that, he let them know he understood their burdens. He listened to them. He wept with them. He was there. Isn't that what we need to do? We don't need to give answers. We need to offer help. Listen. Be there.
Every person I know carries a burden. They may not talk about it, or talk about it to you, but it is there. Before we rush to condemn anyone, we ought to pause and remember they carry a burden. I'm pretty sure the world would be a better place if we could be selfless enough to remember people carry a heavy load. Maybe we would gossip less. Maybe our posts on Facebook wouldn't be so vicious.
Peter, one of Jesus' closest friends, carried burdens. He betrayed his friend. He, too, often said the wrong thing at the wrong time. In his old age, he wrote these beautiful words, "Cast all your cares upon Him, for He cares for you." Peter had discovered that his friend Jesus was there to help him carry his burden.
Whatever burden you carry, Jesus invites you to put the burden on his strong back. He cares for you, cares enough to carry your burden.
The Rev. Dr. Clay Smith is the lead pastor of Alice Drive Baptist Church in Sumter.
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