Accumulate. It’s a dangerous little word that is employed to describe gently falling snow; the harmless growth of lint on the top bookshelf; or the inevitable gathering of ragged boxes, rusty tools, kits and caboodles found inside our garages. But those things that slowly accumulate can become merciless blizzards, a horde of cascading dust bunnies, and a backlog of space-stealing, flea market junk. Indeed, accumulate is a dangerous word.
What the Bible calls “trials and tribulations” accumulate too. Gradually, imperceptibly at first, the flakes fall silently down. A setback here. A disappointment there. A protracted illness. A wayward child. Deep, wordless pain. Anxiety about tomorrow. Without a sound, the weariness of life gathers until one day a look out the window reveals drifts the size of sand dunes crushing against the soul.
And sometimes it’s not the accumulation of various difficulties that grows so heavy; it’s the accumulation of time. A single burden, a load that was once manageable, becomes impossible to bear if it is carried too long. Case in point, consider the familiar case of the weighted water bottle.
If you have a few minutes, take in your hand a single water bottle. It weighs about a pound. Hold it in your outstretched arm. How long can you maintain such a position? A few minutes and you won’t be aware of the weight. Hold it for an hour and you will develop problems: Pain, tremors, and weakness. Hold it for hours on end and you will end up in need of a chiropractor, surgeon, or orthopedist. The bottle’s weight, over time, will break down even the strongest person.
Yet, all of us have a bottle in our hand. All of us carry burdens. All of us suffer from accumulation: The accumulation of multiple hardships or the accumulation of time – what we used to bear with ease, is now too much. What do we do then?
Well, some of us have been taught to tough it out. “Rub some dirt on it and get back out there!” we are told. “Push through the pain,” say life’s drill sergeants. “If the bone ain’t sticking out, then you ain’t hurt,” comes the call from the sidelines, a call full of tyranny and empty of compassion. So we soldier on, dragging our burdens with us, never acknowledging that we have been flattened by what we carry.
Others are taught to ignore their troubles. “Just be positive. There’s no need to make a mountain out of a molehill. I’m sure things will work out in time. You know, there’s always someone worse off than you.” Such numbskulled proverbs roll easily off the tongue, but land like hammer blows on the ones already so broken they cannot stand.
So caught between comforters who offer no comfort and burdens that cannot be unburdened, those who “suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,” usually go crazy, grow numb, or give up. They suffer in silence, the accumulating pain gathering oh so steadily, until they break. But in the breaking is the deliverance.
Jesus once said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens.” Obviously, he recognized the human condition, offering far more than harsh motivation or disparaging clichés. He was speaking to burdened, broken people who needed actual relief, so that is what he offered. “I will give you rest…you will find rest for your souls,” he said.
With this invitation Jesus also recognized that only those who knew they were burdened, who were finally finished trying to shovel out from beneath their amassed weariness, who were exhausted by their burdens, would be able to hear him.
Vibrant spirituality is not as magical or as metaphysical as religion has made it. Quite simply, when one has been sufficiently broken – cracked open as it were by life’s experiences – then the relief and redemption they so desperately need will be there waiting for them. As Leonard Cohen wrote, “There’s a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” And that’s exactly how accumulated burdens get lifted.