“When you are burdened you are close to God. When you are relieved of your burden you are close to yourself.” (St. John of the Cross, Sayings of Light and Love, No. 4)
In this proverb-like statement, St. John of the Cross captures the truth about our human nature and the way we tend to relate to God. When things are going well, we tend to focus more on ourselves than God. Remember the ten lepers who were healed by Jesus. Only one returned to thank him and praise God. (Luke 17:17-18)
When we are burdened beyond our capabilities or unable to envision the solution to our need, we are more inclined to turn to God. We are more open to humbly acknowledge our need.
When our youngest daughter with Down syndrome was facing heart surgery at five months to correct openings between the auricle and ventricle chambers of her heart, we sought the Lord intensely in prayer. We also sought the prayer of some dear Christian friends who came to pray over our daughter and us. After praying with us, one of them said, “With all your recent troubles, you may wonder whether the Lord is close to you, but you should know that he is closer than he has ever been before.”
He was right. We experienced God’s presence, his peace, and his healing. During a cardiac catheterization in preparation for the surgery, we learned that the most critical opening between the ventricles had been healed, and the surgery was cancelled. Correcting the opening between the auricles was postponed until she was four, when she was much stronger and the surgery was less risky.
Psalm 91:15 says, “All who call upon me I will answer, I will be with them in distress; I will deliver them and give them honor.” We should have hope in this promise when faced with various burdens, for they are opportunities to experience Jesus and his mercy. The burden could be an illness, the loss of a loved one, a sin, the alienation of a friend, the loss of a job, or a personal financial crisis.
In a Christian ministry at a local jail, I have listened to various men share how the ordeal of their imprisonment had led them to be open to listening to God and his invitation to become a part of their lives. One said that he would be literally dead now if he had not been imprisoned, which caused him to listen to God and come to know Jesus.
Whatever our burden, Jesus says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Mt. 11:28-29 NIV)
Have you experienced God’s presence through a burden?