There are some people who seem to carry heavier burdens than others. I’m not sure why. I know we all have burdens – some big, some small, some fleeting, some constant. I know we carry them in different ways – some of us are visibly strong, some walk in silence, some appear endlessly unlucky or lucky, some buckle under the weight, some recover, some do not. It is mysterious, and often seems a little unfair. While the severity of our struggles vary, there is none amongst us that escapes this life unscathed.
This hymn speaks to the need we all have to find external strength to help us carry our burdens. The words are based on several Psalms, and were written to be used with this tune when Mendelssohn incorporated it into his oratorio, Elijah, in 1846. The tune is much older, being used as a hymn since at least 1693.
Cast thy burden upon the Lord,
and he shall sustain thee.
He never will suffer the righteous to fall.
He is at thy right hand.
Thy mercy, Lord, is great,
and far above the heav’ns.
Let none be made ashamed,
that wait upon thee.
Simple words, and a simple concept. Sustenance is always available to those who ask. I particularly like the last line that implies that there is no shame in the asking, the needing or the waiting for help. How beautiful. And how contrary to what most of us actually do and feel. Experiencing the impact of our burdens is often enough to shut us down, rather than open us up to expressing our needs and seeking help. We do feel shame. We live in a world where everything is judged on its obvious success, or failure. We are very hard on ourselves and on others.
These words are meant to indicate a need to cast our burdens into the care of God. This is meaningful to many, and I suspect even a few who are not religious, occasionally reach out privately towards something spiritual in moments of intense struggle. But, as is often the case, I wonder if there’s another side to this. To the understanding that we are meant to seek assistance. We were not meant to fight all our battles alone.
If that’s the case, then we are once again given tremendous responsibility towards our neighbours. As providers of care, as askers of help. For some this comes easily – on both sides of the equation. For others it is unbearably difficult. Not all are comfortable seeking help. Not all have somewhere to turn. Not all are suited to providing care. Not all have the resources or skills to offer what’s needed. Not all believe help is available.
Perhaps this is why humans have always created communities. Groups of people that have many talents, many perspectives, many skills. Overlapping each other in hopes that none will fall through the cracks. Not willing to allow those precious companions to fall, being at the right hand of the weary. Perhaps.
We are not alone. No matter how heavy the burdens become. There aren’t always answers to our problems, but there is something to be said for walking through these painful moments with someone by your side – whether they can fix things or not. There is no shame in asking for someone to walk with you. There is no shame in carrying a burden. Life is unfair. The only shame I can see is that which emerges when we refuse to walk with those who carry these heavy loads. Those close to us, those far. Those familiar, those who are strangers. Those we grow weary of; those we wish better for.
We all have gifts to offer. Give what you have. It may not be the solution, nor does it need to be, but sustenance is found in many places. Sustenance that allows us to carry whatever burdens we have received.