I find there are days when it feels like the world is going to hell in a handbasket. Global pandemic, riots, political polarization, human trafficking, radical groups destroying our sense of security, people out of work and businesses forced to close their doors, friends struggling with anxiety and depression, kids in the community losing their battle with mental illness, infertility afflicting some couples and other mommas struggling to feed their children. I could go on, but in case I hadn’t already depressed you, I’ll stop while I’m ahead.
We want to be a light in the darkness. We want to help those around us. We want to bring about justice, but we’re completely overwhelmed by the weight of it all. There are times when the burden is just too much to bear.
Personally, I know there have been days where I’ve told God, “I just can’t do this. The burden is too hard to take.”
Several years back, I first read this story about Amy Carmichael. It resonated so deeply with me that now my mind is always drawn back during moments of complete overwhelm. If you haven’t heard the name Amy Carmichael, she was an inspirational missionary in India around the turn of the century and served there for over 50 years. Amy’s claim to fame was founding an orphanage and working with women and children. Most significantly, she worked to rescue young children who were either at risk to be, or had already been, sold to the Hindu temple priests. Due to customs at the time, these children would be used as temple prostitutes to honor the gods and to earn money for temple priests. Clearly detestable and absolutely heartbreaking.
In her book, The Gold Cord, Amy Carmichael writes about how she founded her ministry and orphanage, and the extreme challenges they faced. There is this moment in the book, just a few chapters in, that made me stop and reread it several times. Feeling utter defeat at losing some of the children they wanted to rescue from prostitution, and feeling helpless as to how to save any more of them, Amy writes that the burden was unbearable; it was too much to carry.
She walked outside and God gave her an image:
“At last a day came when the burden grew too heavy for me; and then it was as though the tamarind trees about the house were not tamarind, but olive, and under one of those trees our Lord Jesus knelt, and he knelt alone. And I knew that this was His burden, not mine. It was He who was asking me to share it with Him, not I who was asking Him to share it with me. After that there was only one thing to do: who that saw Him kneeling there could turn away and forget? Who could have done anything but go into the garden and kneel down beside Him under the olive trees?”
Don’t get distracted by the fact that you don’t know what a tamarind tree is. It’s simply an indigenous tree to that area, the same as me saying, “the trees about the house were not oak, but olive.” And the reference to olive trees is because in the Gospels, Jesus went out to the grove of olive trees and prayed just before his arrest and crucifixion. Amy is stating an important fact here: the burdens of the world are not meant to be carried by us! Our Lord knows that. He knows the world is ugly and full of treacherous things. The whole point of Jesus coming to this world as flesh and dying on the cross as our Savior is because he knows that! The entire Old Testament is clear proof that humans stink at being their own savior. We cannot do it. It’s too much for our capabilities. The burden is too much to take and it ends in failure each time.
But here is the beautiful part: God does invite us to partner with him. He does ask us to live as ambassadors for Him, which, simply put, means to reflect the King whom we represent. He welcomes us to intercede for the people, the community, the world around us.
In his classic book, My Utmost For His Highest, Oswald Chambers discusses this same topic of becoming burdened when we try to do or fix things on our own: “We must distinguish between the burden-bearing that is right and the burden-bearing that is wrong.” He goes on to explain that God does put things on our heart to carry, but they are meant to be “rolled back” onto the shoulders of God. “If we undertake work for God and get out of touch with Him, the sense of responsibility will be overwhelmingly crushing; He takes away the sense of responsibility by bringing in the realization of Himself. ….the burden is lightened by the sense of companionship.” (from the April 13 devotional)
“Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall.”Psalm 55:22
“The burden is lightened by the sense of companionship.” I love that. It is not this idea that because the burden is God’s, we do nothing. Rather, we can freely and weightlessly come alongside God and do the work he’s placed on our hearts. We can provide a meal to sick neighbors, get weekly take-out from a local restaurant trying to stay afloat, sing songs outside an assisted living facility, and write notes of encouragement to healthcare workers. We can purchase gifts through Women At Risk International, donate diapers for new mommas, or volunteer as a mentor at Love INC. We can be the first to extend kindness with those on the opposing side, do weekly check-ins with friends who are hurting, and pay for someone’s coffee.
We can lift up holy hands of prayer and ask for God’s mercy, all the while knowing that ultimately, this life rests in God’s hands. We can be the hands and feet of Jesus in our own sphere without carrying the weight of the world. The results are God’s business. Our job is to obediently follow where God leads.
So if you are finding yourself weary today because of the impending darkness in our world as of late, take heart that the burden doesn’t rest on us. God is still sovereign. He is still carrying us– even when things look bleak. He is still enacting his rescue plan and he will still bring about justice one day. I will continue to say this again and again: we are still in the waiting. The final day of restoration, where heaven meets earth and all things are made new, has not yet come. And while we wait, we can choose to partner with our gracious God. Not getting weighed down by the burdens, but coming alongside our Savior to intercede and to act on behalf of who or what is broken.
As for Amy Carmichael, despite a discouraging and uphill climb to start her ministry, she saved over a thousand children from futures that would have otherwise been filled with poverty or prostitution, even building both a school and hospital on their ministry site. She inspired future missionaries, including Jim and Elisabeth Elliot. Her foundation still exists to this day, run by local Indians, and supports hundreds of people on over 400 acres.
Praise God that Amy didn’t throw in the towel when her task felt too daunting. Her story has served as a powerful reminder to me that while we may not be able to right every wrong today, that doesn’t mean we can’t make a difference and bring a little bit of God’s peace to this world. Stay strong and keep on rolling back those burdens. God hasn’t given up on us, so don’t give up on the world yet, either.
I look up to the mountains;
Does my strength come from mountains?
No, my strength comes from God,
Who made heaven, and earth, and mountains.Psalm 121:1 (The Message)