While hiking on trails along the bluffs of the ocean, our grandson, Ari, lifted his arms and asked, “Will you carry me, Pa?” He is six and about sixty pounds and my knees are bad, so I said, “Sorry, you have gotten too heavy, and I have gotten too old.”
He then asked, “Can Jesus carry me?”
I quickly said, “Yes,” just because it seemed so wrong to say no. After all, we have all those paintings of Jesus carrying lambs. And we have the popular story of footprints in the sand with the lesson that where there is only one set of footprints is where Jesus carried us. There are hymns too.
Ari stopped in the middle of the trail, lifted his arms, and said, “Jesus, carry me.” I don’t know if he was being funny or really expected Jesus to grab him. I kept walking and mumbled, “Jesus probably wants you to use the strong legs He has given you.” Ari’s hands came down and he quickly caught up.
Either Ari is profound, or I have the spirituality of a six-year-old (or both), but Ari has put his finger on one of the complex problems with the language we use to talk about God. Often our language is imprecise, sometimes metaphors taken too literally, sometimes literal stories made too metaphorical.
I often find this is true about the exhortation to give all our burdens to God. Like Ari, I just want to stop in the middle of the trail and say, “God, I give you all these burdens to You. I will let You write the checks, call the doctors, get social security, sign us up for new health insurance, and repair the car.” Often the exhortation to give our burdens to God is followed by a warning not to take the burdens back once we have laid them at the feet of Jesus.
But taking back our burdens and getting busy is exactly what we all must do unless we end up like Ari, stuck in the middle of the trail waiting for Jesus to carry him. I have heard eloquent sermons on not being anxious and casting all our cares upon the Lord. After one of these, I asked the pastor, “How do you avoid being anxious about your children and grandchildren?” He bluntly answered, “I don’t know.”
I have usually not been anxious about myself or my finances. I am confident in God’s care for me even though I believe His care does not deliver me from all the evils of this world like sickness, wicked people, and my own foolishness. But I do not have the same freedom from anxiety for family and friends who might step out from under the protection given by God’s love and wisdom.
Throughout his letters, Paul expresses concern and sometimes even fear (Galatians 4:11) for his spiritual children. In Romans 9:2 Paul says he has “great sorrow and unceasing anguish” for his Jewish brothers who refuse to believe Jesus is the Messiah. In II Corinthians 11:28 Paul speaks of facing “daily the pressure of my concern for the church.” His concern for others seemed to be a calling, a gift, and yet still a burden—one that could not be given away. I suppose we could rebuke Paul for not giving all his burdens to the Lord, but such a rebuke feels foolish. I distrust any idea that makes me more spiritual than Paul.
Paul, who embraces “unceasing anguish,” also tells us in Philippians 4:7, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again, rejoice. Paul urges, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” In I Peter we are told, “Cast all your anxiety on Him [God] because he cares for you.” I have tried but failed to do this well.
For about the last four years Teckla and I fought daily to keep our son, Peter, alive. He was in and out of ICU’s all over the state—sometimes intubated and near death. We could not, like Ari, stop in the middle of the trail and say, “Carry me, Jesus. Here, you call the ambulance this time.” In anguish we often debated when we should over-rule Peter and call the ambulance before he was willing to go. This was not a decision we could hand-off to God. Although I have clear conscience concerning Peter, he might be alive if I had called the ambulance the night before he died instead of the next morning. In addition to all this, of course, was our concern for his spiritual health. Were the knots in my stomach and emotional exhaustion because I had “taken back my burdens from the Lord”?
We prayed constantly, but our prayers seldom lessened our fears for Peter. In prayer we gave God our burden for Peter, but it did not lighten our burden. Although I have only gratitude and thanksgiving toward God, it is also true that we put Peter into God’s hands and Peter died. Yes, it could be that Peter’s death was somehow the working out of some divine providence and wisdom. Or in the war that God wins in the end, this may have been victory for the enemy. Whatever the case, there is still something complex and paradoxical about asking Jesus to carry Peter and Peter dying. I hope in the end Peter, like Ari, threw up his hands and asked Jesus to carry him.
So what then? First, as Ari discovered, our language about being carried by Jesus and casting our burdens on Him is metaphorical. What we often mean and probably even what Scripture means is that God gives us the strength to carry our burdens. We are given the assurance we are not alone and that He is at work seeking to save, heal, and help those we love.On occasion, there may be a supernatural intervention like the one in Acts when Philip was transported by the Spirit from one place to another, but usually obedience is a long slog.
Second, God calls into the paradox of constantly rejoicing in our salvation and constantly sorrowing for those who are lost. We are set free from anxiety about ourselves, so that we can fully give ourselves to the care of others. We lay down our burdens so we can share in God’s. We are invited, even privileged, to join in the sufferings of Jesus who was a man of sorrows because of the depth of His love for us.
I still pray that Jesus will carry Ari—and all my other wonderful grandchildren. I also ask God to strengthen their legs and hearts to run after Him all their days.