An image comes to me across space and time. I don’t ask for it, but it comes nonetheless. An older woman wearing a long skirt and an old, well-worn, hand-knitted, patched-up sweater has a red scarf tied tightly around her head. She’s bent over at the waist as she carries a large bundle of sticks on her back.
She walks the entire length of the village. I imagine she sells the sticks to earn a meager living. Maybe enough to eat another day and to buy a little fuel for her evening fire. I wonder, when she puts down her bundle, is she able to stand up straight? Or is her back permanently in the shape of a question mark from carrying her burden?
Sticks a few at a time are not heavy. Kids play with sticks and throw them around as if they’re made of paper. But her bundle reaches up into the sky. It must weigh a couple hundred pounds. It seems like an oppressive load for one so small and thin. But she trudges on as if the sticks are part of who she is. Maybe they are.
We all carry burdens through this life. They start out light enough. A few at a time are not hard to handle. They aren’t heavy or oppressive. We might even toss them around as if they’re toys, believing that they’re as easy to get rid of as tossing a stick to a dog.
But the more we live, the more we add to our burden pile. Someone says an unkind word and we can’t let it go. We add it to our pile. We’re told that we’ll never be good enough. Maybe not in so many words, but through actions. We add the sticks of unworthiness, unwanted, and the fear of being alone.
A trusted friend betrays us and we question whether we can trust anyone. The sticks of sadness, mistrust, and worry are added to our pile.
We’re passed up for a promotion because we’re not related to the boss. The sticks of unfairness and anger are added. Out of the blue, our spouse decides that he or she no longer wants to be married. We add a forest of sticks to our ever-growing pile, including the sticks of grief, fear of change, and loss.
Pretty soon, we’re walking through this life bent over from the load we’re carrying. We’re just like the woman in the village whose load becomes part of who she is. We not only carry what’s happened in our lives, we allow it to define us. There’s the grown man who’s still the frightened little boy inside waiting for the next insult, even though the insulter is long gone.
We allow our sticks to dictate our behavior. We become bitter, mistrusting and hardened. We’re so bent on reliving all that has happened to us, that we forget to look up and see any good that might come our way.
We’re stuck carrying our burdens through life. We’re stuck rearranging our lives to make room for them. Some people are afraid to get too close to anyone. They’re afraid they’ll be hurt again. So they keep others at least a stick’s width away.
Others are proactive. They’ve been hurt so they figuratively beat off anyone with a stick who comes too close. They’re too afraid to trust again. There are many stories. It’s easy to understand why people are the way they are.
The sad part is that the Lord never intended us to live this way. He is not the God of fear. He doesn’t see us as unworthy or unlovable. He sees us as his precious children. He loves us with an everlasting love.
Jesus walked on this earth among us. He saw us and all the burdens we carry. He knows each one of us by name. He does not want us to live burdened lives. Carrying the sticks of regret, shame, grief, sorrow and unworthiness. He wants us to live lives of freedom. He came to set the captives free (Luke 4:18).
He said, “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. For my yoke is easy and my burden light” (Matthew 11:28-30).
Is your burden heavy? Is your soul tired? Come to Jesus. Let him carry your load. Learn from him. He’ll show you how to live a life of freedom. And that’s nothing to throw a stick at.
Kathy Yoder is a devotional writer. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.