I can remember years ago when my nonagenarian grandmother was alive, that no matter what befell her in her old age, she refused to let anything get her down. For years, she was happy to enjoy the simple pleasures in life like cooking for others, visitors, and family. We’d ask her, on any given day, how she was feeling, and she’d tell us, “I can’t complain.” That response always astounded me because she clearly had much about which to complain as it wasn’t like she was pain-free. Yet despite her cataracts, arthritis which resulted in a hunched over frame, losing her hearing, and high cholesterol and blood pressure, she refused to complain. I thought maybe she was just modest or didn’t want to focus on the negative (both of which may be true), but I believe she wouldn’t complain for another reason.
In life, she never wanted to be a burden on anyone, desiring to do most things herself. So, I’ve concluded that she responded with no complaints because of just that: she didn’t want to burden others with what she was going through. She’d rather keep it to herself and bear the burden silently.
But isn’t sharing the burden a Godly trait? Our earthly burdens are frequently referred to as “our yoke,” with scripture instructing us to place it upon Christ where He will give us rest. Galatians 6.2 teaches us to “carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” We frequently see our fellow travelers struggling with difficult baggage, and it does them great good to share those struggles with an attentive ear and a firm shoulder. But this is not about those selfless people or those sacrificial times.
This is about the me-monster.
Comedian Brian Regan told a story about how at a party, no matter what he said, this other person had a bigger story. When Brian told about an accomplishment, the other person would say something along the lines of, “Well, if you think that’s something, then…” and would proceed to top whatever he had to say, obnoxiously eclipsing him at every turn. Similarly, the me-monster can rear its ugly head when it comes to sharing burdens.
We all know that person (or maybe more than one) whom we never like to ask how they are doing, because we know we are in for a long story about how much they’ve been suffering lately. They will go on to complain about their health, how their kids are treating them, what indignities they’ve suffered at work, all because they just love to put burdens on other people and top other’s stories.
Get a few of them together, and unlike my grandmother’s approach, it’s a who’s who of bodily ailments: whose sciatica is acting up, what pain was emanating from where the other day, or how their senses are slowly getting dulled in the coming years. You see, the me-monster doesn’t also just like to one-up you with their accomplishments, they also like to out-do you in how much they have to put up with. They are a black hole of sympathy in the room, drawing all sunlight and hope away from everyone for the sheer desire to elicit misery and empathy. In short, they want you to feel bad for them because it makes them feel good.
And it doesn’t do anyone any good in the process. The me-monster just gets bigger and those around it are further alienated and minimized. Sometimes, burdening others with our troubles isn’t the answer. Sometimes it’s better to just carry them ourselves if we can.
I was faced with this dilemma recently, when I learned at work that there was a chance I might lose my job due to budget cuts. I had been there twelve years, but in my department, I was third from the bottom. This information weighed on me as I wondered how I was going to deal with it. For many, as was my instinct too, their first action is to share the burden with a loved one or spouse. I thought through this action, but realized that in sharing my burden with my wife, she would have to put up with that burden as well, carrying it around, needing to deal with it. I didn’t want to have to have her suffer with this information yet, as like I said, there was only a chance of me losing it. So, why put my burden on her and force her to contend with it when I could quietly suffer with it just fine myself? By telling her, the only person who would benefit would be me from the sympathy, which is arguable because if my wife is worrying about this, then our marriage suffers too with the amount of stress I’ve introduced.
So, I decided that I would tell her when the threat was more real or when I couldn’t deal with it myself, just like my grandmother who was suffering silently just fine by herself. There was no need to burden others with what she was going through, so I followed likewise. And as it turns out, my threat passed, and it seems I have a job next year. So, by telling her back then, not only would I have been burdening her with this information, I would have been needlessly burdening her, just like the me-monster.
Just because we are suffering, that doesn’t give us license to share with everyone around us. Even Christ didn’t share with everyone the burden of His impending crucifixion. Sure, when the burden becomes too much, confession to someone close helps lift that burden, but just becoming the me-monster and burdening everyone else in our world doesn’t make for a very inviting existence. So the next time you have an opportunity to share your burden, weigh whether you need to or not. Don’t let the me-monster take over your communication, and instead take a note from grandma by choosing to radiate optimism and not complain. Amen.