It’s Too Heavy For Me To Carry
It is damp and dreary here in West Indy, but the flowers on my porch and in my yard are in full bloom, and that makes all the difference. I’m sure some hate the thought of “yard work” or anything to do with planting and keeping something growing alive, but for me it’s bliss to have a few hours alone with nothing more than dirt, plants, and silence. I haven’t always been this way, but the older I’ve gotten, and the more chaotic things are with the rest of life, the more I’ve come to cherish the brief, shining moments in my little garden. In many ways the simple task of planting something and watching it grow, while at the same time adding beauty and color to an otherwise drab exterior – well, it reminds me of something else; something bigger and older and quite simply, better than most of what I see and hear around me.
The flowers and plants remind me that some things in this life are still beautiful and worth fighting for – my wife and marriage, my Godchildren, my family and friends, and the Good and Truth that remains here against all odds. I find that God places little reminders everywhere, and usually they come right when I need them. And hence, the reason for this post. I mentioned in the last update that I would be telling some of the stories of living with 3 children not my own and the dramatic change that this has brought upon my wife and I. This is one of many, and like my flowers, it’s one way in which God has broken through the haze and blur of postmodern life and stirred this otherwise cold and sleepy heart.
The last couple weeks have been particularly trying for us as parents. Due to some unfortunate…
…developments with the children’s mother and her return to Indy and proximity to us and them, their behavior has reverted to extreme attention seeking, disrespect, and probably the most difficult of all, manipulation and lying to my wife and I. Not really unexpected, but difficult to deal with nonetheless. The older two, after having been suspended once from school for inappropriate behavior, were both separately suspended again within the same week. Elijah, the oldest, was the final straw. We had discussed with him the first time what the problem was, what his teacher and the principal of the school had told us, and what we expected to see improve. When, no more than three days later he was suspended again for the same actions, we were both frustrated and saddened that things hadn’t improved.
The crux of this whole event happened when we were issuing the punishment for him – that he had to bag up all of his toys and “fun things” in his room and give them to us for one week. We had decided with both Elijah and Kiera that after the second suspension they were to be grounded for one week, and would not be playing with their usual toys and games, nor watching any TV, which is limited anyway, but would now be non-existent. On top of all of this, as we were working with Elijah and directing him as he was cleaning out his room, I happened to check under his bed and found a most disturbing thing – multiple granola bar wrappers, as well as two whole, unopened bars. Certainly not scandalous to most, however, the rule in our house is that food is eaten downstairs, and that it is always asked for and given by an adult. This stems from a similar issue that we were made aware of when the kids moved in with us, and their habit of stealing things, especially food. When I saw the multitude of wrappers I knew immediately that he had been “sneaking” these upstairs for quite some time, as well as stealing and squirreling away other food, which we eventually found. Our home certainly is not without food, and most of us are very well fed…to say the least. Needless to say, we were both very upset and confronted him about it. He was angry and tried to shift the blame to us and to others, but in the end, with tears he confessed that he’d been stealing them and didn’t know why. We knew why and knew that there is some baggage that he carries that makes no sense logically or rationally, and certainly makes no sense to an 11 year old mind, but nonetheless drives him to do many things that quite simply DON’T make any sense. This was truly hard to take, and a blow to our pride that we had been “helping them change” over the past few months. I believe they are changing, but it’s easy to believe that things have changed more than they actually have. I believe the words that came out of my mouth were, “Elijah! I’m so disappointed and really very hurt that this entire time you’ve been lying to us and stealing from us! WHY?!?” There was no good answer besides the large tears dripping down his little face, and the brief words, “I don’t know. I’m sorry!”
The MOST difficult part was telling Elijah that he had to dismantle the 500 piece puzzle that he had spent a week and a half assembling and had proudly left intact on a piece of plywood on his bedroom floor. We knew that this was a key element in the mix, as it was one thing he truly cared about and would certainly be a way that he would understand the seriousness of the situation. So far, nothing else seemed to phase him. And so, sobbing, he took it apart, put it carefully back in its box, and put it in the black, unmarked trash bag with the rest of his toys and precious belongings. We allowed him to keep his icons, baptismal cross, and a poem from his mother in his room, all of which he had setup in a makeshift icon corner. Other than that, the bag was full.
I asked him sternly one more time, “Is that all?” and he replied, “Yes.” “Very well” I stated. “Take it downstairs to the back room. You can have it back in a week.”
And that’s when it happened. He lifted the bag, dropped it, and lifted it again, this time over his shoulder. The weight of it was overwhelming for his little frame. He was still crying and said in as somber and despairing a voice as I’ve ever heard, “It’s too heavy for me to carry!” I looked at him and said, “But you must. I’m sorry, but you must.” With that he screwed up his brow and with a great moan hoisted the bag again on his shoulder and began to walk downstairs. As that little boy walked away from me carrying a sack full of things and sobbing out, “I’m sorry! I’m so sorry! It’s too heavy!” I began to weep. I watched from the top of the stairs as he carried this overwhelming burden and I wept.
I desperately wanted to help him, but I knew that he needed to carry this himself for awhile. He was in a very real way learning the weight of his own sin. And this is precisely what I saw; precisely what God reminded me of that day. As I watched him struggle down the stairs with a weight on his shoulders too great for him, and watched him manhandle it anyway, and yet still cry out for help – I saw it. I saw myself. I saw in that instance all the ways that I heap a multitude of sins upon myself and then I’m forced to carry the weight of that around. And often, I cry out, “Lord, help me, please!” And seemingly He does nothing. I must carry it for a little while, and then always in the end, He comes and helps me bear it.
In the end, after his grounding, I helped Elijah carry his things back upstairs to his room. I was glad to. His behavior had improved and I believe that he fully understood the riff his sins and selfish behavior had caused, and had cost himself and everyone else. I had to take an unplanned day off of work, as did Janna the first time he was suspended, and we discussed with him the simple truth that our actions don’t always just effect us. There was apology, forgiveness, and the words, I love you. And it was enough.
We know something else will ultimately happen again, but for now, I think a good lesson has been learned, and I’ve yet again encountered God breaking through this time and space and reminding me of what is real and true.
When I saw Eli carrying that and watched him struggle under the load I couldn’t help but weep as I was reminded of all of us. Sinners all, and often overwhelmed by the weight of what we are carrying around. And yet, nothing can get around the fact that more often than not, it is a load or our own sins, failings, and poor choices that we bear. We craft our own baggage and while we must sometimes walk under the strain of it all for a time, in the end, God stoops down, and carries it for us. Was this not the cross itself? The symbol of suffering and a load too great to bear – and yet He did bear it alone for our sakes, taking upon himself the sins of mankind.
Eli learned a valuable lesson, and in him I saw a mirror of myself carrying around my own garbage sack filled with the refuse of sin and death and all the little trinkets that I place value on but ultimately just weigh me down. I knew that this whole unfortunate event was about more than just Elijah getting into trouble – it was about me remembering to take responsibility for my own actions, and to take stock of the things that I ascribe value to in my own idolatry and hence am putting in my own bag, and to be thankful above all to God, who bears the load for us when we can’t possibly take any more.
I don’t know about you, but I need these reminders. And above all I’m thankful to God for them, especially in the form of our Godchildren. For truly, “Out of the mouths of babes…” the Lord speaks.
Christ is Risen!