share the load

Every once in a while (and oftentimes when we least expect it) the sh*t in our lives hits the fan…and in a major, monumental, and earth-shattering way.

There you are minding your own business, still obsessing over a bunch of little irritations from yesterday or blithely making plans for the future, and then…WHAMMO!

The universe sneaks up with some great big ‘ol sucker punch and suddenly you find yourself on the floor staring up at the ceiling wondering what the hell just hit you. Whether through a lost job or a broken relationship, compromised health or shattered dreams, the sudden loss of your home or a loved one—the world has taken you by storm and left you to sort through the wreckage.

I’m not referring to a minor inconvenience or annoyance that you can just apply some of your hard-earned mindfulness, perspective, and wisdom to and move on…we’re talking about those circumstances that knock the wind out of you and bring you to your knees.

Whew. So, now what?

what are friends for?

Picture yourself all of a sudden carrying a humongous wooden chest up over your head, crammed full of the thoughts, feelings, and sensations that showed up when the world came crashing down around you. It’s a lot to bear, right?

Soon enough you might find yourself feeling quite weary and discouraged from the effort of lugging all of that around everywhere.

And yet, many of us think we’ll feel better about ourselves if we can suck it up and haul that immense load around on our own without bothering those around us. I bet we all know plenty of folks who don’t want to burden others with their own burdens. They’d prefer their arms cramp up and their legs give out rather than issue a call for help.

We might worry it’s going to make us look like a weenie for not being able to handle things on our own. And, plus everyone else has their own problems they’re dealing with…

We may imagine that the whole weight of our worry will accidentally become theirs or that our friends and family really just don’t want to hear about our struggles. Or we believe (or fear) that all of those years building relationships meant nothing and that our close confidants will suddenly become fair weather friends and skip town.

So…when one of those friends happens by (who knows you well enough to know when you’re lying) and asks, “How are you?” (and really means it) you’ve got two choices. You can share what’s up, or put on that fake smile (that’s not fooling anyone) and say, “I’m fine.”

When you go that secondary route, not only are you dealing with something horrendously difficult, you’ve added additional weight and pressure to the situation (and to yourself) by pretending that nothing’s wrong. It takes effort to not be genuine and so now, in addition to all of the other crap you were already managing, you now feel isolated from those you usually feel close to. Can you sense things getting worse here?

And really, how does that help anyone even under the best conditions? Assuming you’re dealing with some truly terrible sh*t, this means that you’re not going to be executing the rest of the tasks in your life very well for a while. You may not be particularly productive at work, or attentive to your kids, or a very good friend at the moment.

Since your hands are busy balancing all that heavy stuff and dealing with the logistics of this latest catastrophe, your mind and heart are certainly going to be preoccupied managing those details as well. Hell, with what just happened you may be having trouble remembering to wear your under garments on the inside of your clothes, never mind keeping your household running smoothly and excelling at your job.

Despite all that, we still try to keep it to ourselves. We try to be brave. And we find ourselves not only in pain, but alone. And that’s wicked sucky.

The fact is, you’re in crisis mode, so it’s time to circle the wagons.

And plus, what are friends for anyway?

a burden shared

So maybe…when that good friend happens by and inquires how things are going…you take a risk…and you share your burden. You let someone in.

And instead of fleeing, to your surprise and amazement, they step closer and take up a corner of that giant weight you were carrying, not the whole thing—it’s still yours to own and manage—but now you’re not alone.

Trust is given and grows. Friendship is strengthened. Hearts and minds are eased.

Not just yours, but theirs as well. Because that person—who would otherwise have been standing by helplessly watching as someone they cared about struggled—can now feel of use—that they are doing something to support you in your time of need. Perhaps even giving back and returning the favor of assistance that you offered them once.

“Joy shared is a double joy. A burden shared is half a burden.”
— Swedish Proverb

I think when we let someone in that the actual equation is more complicated than just your burden divided by two. It seems like there’s more coefficients and variables involved. I think it might look something more like this.

When we let others in we often receive physical and practical support—dog walking, baby sitting, rides and errands, and the mid-western cure-all, casseroles—and those simple things can leave us free to attend to other pressing details. But we also receive emotional reinforcements, which can provide a buttress and bolster, when that weight seems way too heavy for one person to manage.

People who love and care about you don’t want to see you suffer, and sitting helplessly by as you go through something difficult sucks for them, too. So…if you can’t bring yourself to share the burden for your own sake, maybe do it for them.

The Latin root of compassion, compati, means “to suffer with,” and, even if your friends can’t solve your problem or take your suffering away, they can “be with” you and keep you company on your journey of doing whatever needs doing. There is comfort in that.

And yeah, letting down your guard and reaching out can feel like a godawful risk. It can mean cashing in on the currency of your friendship. But, compassion and gratitude aren’t finite—so don’t worry that that those wells will run dry in the process.

With each telling another corner of your load, and a bit of your burden, is taken up so that eventually your hands are free to rebuild your life, to blow your nose, to nourish yourself, to heal. Until, day by day you find your way back to yourself. Back to joy.

And, now you’ve got someone to share that with, too. And that doesn’t suck one bit.

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