The philosopher Ovid said, “The burden which is well borne becomes light.” I am not convinced that it always becomes light, but my experience has been that it does not become heavier, and that alone can be a blessing.
I have thought of those words recently when talking with several people who are dealing with a variety of work and personal issues. They each had different burdens–work pressures, financial worries, relationship problems, illness, grief, and worry about children or parents. In each case the individuals could be said to be carrying their burdens well and I thought about what I could learn from their behavior, to apply to my own life. I’ll share those thoughts with you!
1. Moving forward with grace and perserverence does not require that you deny you have a burden. One of the people I spoke with had at first made light of a tremendous responsibility that had been placed on her shoulders recently. After a short conversation she said, “I have to tell you, it’s been the most crushingly stressful thing I’ve ever encountered.” I asked her if it felt good to admit that, and she laughed and said yes, it did. She said, “Sometimes I get so darned tired of being strong and invincible!” (She knows she is not, but in her world she must act that way many times.)
You are not diminished by saying to family or coworkers, “I feel terrible right now.” “I want to do well but I’m afraid.” “I’m miserably sad.” “I don’t see how I will get everything done.” “I’m heartsick over it.” Those are reasonable human emotions and reactions. In fact, in some ways it may diminish the significance of a situation if you act as though it has no impact on you or is not important enough to be concerned about.
Another aspect of saying you are burdened with concern, sadness, excessive work or a schedule that is punishing at the moment, is that you can be a better example of emotional, mental and spiritual strength to your family, friends and coworkers. If you make it all look easy or as though you do not care, how can they know what concerns you, and how can they learn how you deal with those concerns effectively?
2. The mere act of saying you have a plan for dealing with a burden is helpful. Even if you are speaking with a bit of false bravado, acting positive about your ability to deal with a situation is helpful. If you say, “Here is what I am doing to accomplish it.” Or, “I’m going to handle it this way.” Or, “Here is how I am working through it.”, you will almost certainly follow that with one or two ideas that you know intuitively will help.
No one says, “The way I’m going to respond to this new work challenge is to sit and complain for hours at a time.” Or, “I think I will be paralyzed by doubt.” Or, “The way I handle situations like this is to give up and let someone rescue me.” Saying you have a plan helps you realize you have a few ideas at least–and encourages you to follow through on those.
3. You may be able to lighten your burden by not carrying it at all–or by shifting it around a bit. One friend was telling me about a worry she was experiencing, that seemed to me to be unnecessary in the first place. However, I realized that I was looking at it from an outsider’s perspective so I did not express that thought. (Almost a first for me!) A few days later as we chatted again she said, “I’ve decided to not be the only one losing sleep over this. I was starting to feel more angry than worried and I knew I needed to make the other people take more responsibility. Now, I’m not losing sleep at all.”
Not all concerns can be shrugged off, of course. And emotions do not go away just because you decide to stop feeling them. However, even then we may be able to choose to not add to them unnecessarily. Sometimes toting around a specific worry is so habitual we never even consider that perhaps we could unload it or reduce it. (And sometimes we can do that best by not being around the people or situations that we know will add to it.)
4. Live your life in a way that prepares you for the inevitable burdens you will need to carry. You cannot move a heavy item if your muscles are weak because you have never used them. You cannot carry a heavy mental or emotional burden if you have never cultivated inner strength. Strength of any kind does not happen on its own, it must be developed and maintained.
One day–some place and at some time–you will need strength. That is an inevitability that none of us escape. What is not inevitable is how prepared and strong you will be. If the small frustrations and hurts have the power to negatively disrupt your life, work and relationships, you will be knocked down for the count by the large ones. The time to prepare is now.
We say, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” We do not say, “When the going gets tough, the weak start developing strength so they will eventually be tough enough to get going.” Handling the big challenges of life effectively and with hope comes from the practice of effectively handling the little challenges every day.
You may have a philosophy or faith that helps you gain and maintain the strength you need. (You may have also found that it is much easier to apply that philosophy or faith in the abstract than when reality hits.) But, you will more likely be able to “keep the faith” during adversity if you have made a practice of it all along.
5. If you have a burden, stand as upright and balanced as possible, smile and keep moving. That may not be the best advice for a physical burden, but it works for a mental or emotional one. I am not suggesting that you cover your worries or problems with grinning, frantic activity. I mean, do not let your knees buckle and do not stop to meditate on how heavy the burden is–just focus on your goal and move toward it.
Keep this in mind as well (as I try to, even as I write these bits of advice): It is nearly always easier to tell someone else how they should carry their burden than it is to carry your own. Do not be quick to condemn the responses or reactions of others to the challenges of their lives. Instead, see what you can do to help or encourage them, without getting in the way of their efforts to move forward.
In my recent conversations with people about their personal and professional burdens I also found this to be true: At some point burdens do become lighter. Sadness lessens, a work project is over, a relationship either improves or ends, circumstances change, or maybe you simply adjust. Sometimes that takes much, much longer than other times, but it happens, as you have noticed in your own life. In the meantime, we can lighten the negative affect of our burdens by carrying them in a way that reflects well on our character and abilities. ”I can do this,” becomes, ”I did that and I’m stronger for it.”