“I want everyone to know this! I am an innocent man, forced to carry the cross of a condemned criminal!”
Just before being forced to carry Christ’s cross in the film The Passion of the Christ, Simon shouts this to the on-looking crowd. While this protest is not a part of Scripture, it still does say something about how we often view burdens in our lives.
My friend Kristine recently confided in me about the weight of some burdens that she carried. “I know that these are things I need to get taken care of,” she said. “I can’t expect to carry these things forever, especially when they could burden somebody else.”
Isn’t that the way we often feel sometimes? There are things in our lives that we carry, burdens that weigh us down. I’m talking about those things that don’t leave us even though Christ redeems us. We are forgiven and we have given our sin over to Him, and He has forgiven us. But our circumstances don’t always change just because we have. I still have the same family, live in the same community, work with the same people, and have the same responsibilities. Sometimes that means the consequences of even forgiven sin continue, or that the past continues to influence the present, or that pain and hurt may still exist.
Yet so often we would rather not confide in someone we trust for fear of how they might react or respond. Or we feel like we can’t expect someone trustworthy to bear the weight of the things that we deal with. The load is too heavy. They’ll never understand. What will they think of me?
As a result, there are a great many people out there carrying their burdens alone. It isn’t necessarily that past hurts haven’t healed, or that faith has been shaken, or that hope doesn’t persist. But what it means is that there are a great many people carrying more than they were meant to. There is a prominent belief that if we share our burdens with someone else, we will bring shame or weakness on them. We fear that Simon’s statement is true for others or that our burdens will incite shameful criticism from others, or both.
The reality I think is that all of us have at one point or another put ourselves out there on the line and got shamed for it. I remember a time in my childhood when I was so afraid that the things I would say were wrong that I would worry all night about what I’d said during the day. We worry about hurting others or causing them harm because of our own fears or burdens. It’s because doing so means taking a risk and, as Kristine described sharing her burdens, “it feels like having my heart on the chopping block.”
So what do we do?
We must realize that Simon was totally and completely wrong about his situation. The irony was that he had it backward. The fact is that Christ was the innocent bearing the burden of the guilty. In fact, Christ was the innocent bearing the burden of Simon himself. It was Christ who bore our burdens first, and it is first to Him that we must bring our burdens. Simon wasn’t carrying someone else’s cross—in reality, Christ was helping Simon carry his own. And He also is helping each of us carry our cross, our task, our burdens, and our purpose.
Some of the strongest people I know are those who perhaps feel the weakest for carrying the heaviest burdens. The fact is, we often get it backwards too. We fear our burden makes us weak, that having a burden to bear is somehow un-Christian or a sign that we will fail. That’s often why men who struggle with lust and its temptations fear admitting their difficulty and submitting to accountability and counseling. That’s often why those who come from divorced homes believe their experience is somehow faulty, that that fact makes them inadequate for a successful marriage or inferior to someone from a two-parent home. That’s often why Christians rarely discuss their fears and doubts and depression openly, as though they don’t exist. We believe we’re supposed to be stronger than that, better than that.
The reason is because we have the wrong perspective. Often I think we’re a lot like Simon, wondering why we got picked for this task or to carry a certain burden. “Why did I end up on this road? What did I do to deserve it?” But Simon failed to ask and see the answer to the bigger and grander question. “Why was I chosen to help Christ complete this His task? Because with His help He believed I could bear the burden and fulfill the task that nobody else could.”
“Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Jesus, Matthew 11:28-30
We’ve somehow come to believe that our burdens and our tasks are our own, when they are in fact Christ’s. Simon was chosen for one of the greatest honors in Christendom—the first to literally fulfill Christ’s calling to take up a cross and follow Him. Like Christ did, we all bear burdens, a task, a cross; but just as for Simon, it is Christ who has already borne the greatest load. If we believe that our struggles are our own, that no one else could possibly bear them with us, then we will never fully understand their purpose in our lives.
What do we do? First, we must give them over to Christ. “Cast your cares on the Lord and He will sustain you” (Psalm 55:22). Too often the first mistake people make is depending on other finite human beings to carry eternal and infinite burdens. No one else but Christ can bear sin. No one else but Christ can bring complete healing. No one else but Christ can fulfill the deep longing in every heart, the primary spiritual longing and burden we all bear. “He cares for you.” There is no rest, no peace, and no fulfillment without Him as the lover of your soul.
Second, we must learn to operate as the Body Christ meant us to be. That means bearing one another’s burdens in following with Christ’s example. What interferes with this, I think, is a “Simon-mentality” in each of us. “I’ve got my own burdens to carry—why should I have to worry about someone else’s, or allow someone else to worry about mine? I’m not as __________ as ‘so-and-so’ is!” Fill in the blanks: “strong”, “weak”, “good”, “bad”. We as humans have a bad habit of comparing ourselves with one another, of measuring out our burdens so that we can keep our distance from depending on someone else or allowing someone else to depend on us.
Yet Paul in Romans 15:1 says it this way: “We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves.” Have we forgotten that God demonstrates strength through weakness; that He overcomes evil with good; that love covers over a multitude of sin? (2 Corinthians 12:9; Romans 12:21; 1 Peter 4:8.) If we adopt an individualistic attitude about our burdens so that we never give them over to Christ first and bear one another’s for mutual benefit, then we have forgotten that the Body of Christ is a community, fitted together so that we each serve a purpose and allow others to connect with us and us with them. In a body, different parts each bear different weights and different responsibilities. If the hand should prevent the arm from bearing it, how functional will that part of the body be?
In addition, that “Simon-mentality”, that aversion to bear with the failings of others we sometimes feel is just plain selfishness and a lack of compassion. Let’s get it out in the open and call it what it is. I deal with it—we all do, and only love can overcome it. That is the deepest love, agape love, which looks after the burdens of others, tenderly and understandingly caring about those around us. It looks for the spiritual benefit of others by pouring into them, without preventing others from doing the same for us. It fights for the well-being of others, stands by them in love even in the darkest hours, and mourns with them in failure as well as rejoices with them in victory.
We are each stronger in some areas than in others, and none of us is designed to bear all our burdens alone. The only reason we don’t believe this is because we—like Simon’s statement implies—view our purpose as somehow removed from the burdens we bear, because we view the things we carry as liabilities instead of assets. But those things that are often lamented as liabilities for their inalterability—family background, past experiences, current relationships—may in fact be the greatest assets we can bring into God’s Kingdom and see His glory manifested in. We are stewards of all God gives us: of weakness as well as strength, of hardship as well as prosperity, of attitude as well as action.
“We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: ‘The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.’ For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God” (Romans 15:1-7).