A Precious Trust: Carrying Each Other's Burdens
She looked at the conveyor belt with a mix of resolve and desperation. The young woman’s entire life, it seemed, had been disassembled and laid out for inspection, and now she had to put it back together.
I saw her in the airport security line in front of me, my husband and I admiring this twenty-something and her beautiful young family. Her husband stood stern-faced at her side, assessing the task at hand, weighed down with the multiple bags and accessories required when traveling with two young children. She pushed the impressively engineered stroller containing a sleeping two-month old while holding her preschool son’s hand. When they arrived at the security screening area, everything - and I mean EVERYTHING - had to fit through the scanner. Each bag in its own bin. All accessories detached and laying flat in additional bins. The stroller broken down into its components: frame, car seat, and bassinet. The young father did his best to wrangle the restless older boy while the mom reluctantly woke her sleeping baby to extract him from his cozy shelter. When the dad collapsed the large stroller frame and laid it on the conveyor belt, the security officer looked at him with a sympathetic frown. It was too wide to fit through. Would the wheels come off, she asked? Yes, even the wheels came off, and dropped into yet another bin along with shoes and the stuffed animal his son carried.
My husband and I watched all of this with a tinge of nostalgia and a big wave compassion. Some people in line behind us shuffled in impatience at the whole process, but we got it. Traveling with small children is no joke, and the smaller the child, the more stuff required to keep him calm and meet all of his needs. This young mom and dad had skillfully packed their pile of provisions for a few hours of life on the road, and now it was all in fragments.
Mom carried her infant in her arms and walked through the screening, turning to wait for her older son to walk through. Dad released the boy’s hand as he scampered towards his mom, and then Dad returned to the conveyor to make sure all the bins actually made it through the x-ray machine. He flashed me an apologetic look as I stood with my meager items (one bin for shoes, one for my computer) waiting my turn. I gave him my most sympathetic smile and nodded my understanding.
Finally, Dad made it through the screening. Mom’s hands were completely tied with an infant in one arm and holding her son’s hand with the other. She had no chance to grab the first item in the long line of possessions as they cleared the screening. To make matters worse, one of the family’s backpacks got pulled for additional inspection at another area, and someone had to stay with the pack at all times. I caught the flash of panic in Mom’s eyes, the familiar look of “omigosh now what?!” that every young mother wears in moments like these. I had felt that same angst so many times when my kids were younger. So I grabbed my shoes, slipped them on, threw my computer bag over my shoulder, and stepped towards her.
“You look like you could use a few extra hands,” I said. “Tell me what to do.”
She looked at me, confused for a second, then looked at her husband who was grabbing items and piling them up, trying to get everything out of other people’s way before reassembling the entire mess. She looked back at me.
“Hold my baby?” she pleaded.
“Absolutely!” I replied, and I gathered the sleepy infant into my arms, immediately assuming the mommy-sway that I had adopted so many years ago and that mothers never really unlearn.
At this point, you might be shocked that a mom just handed over her baby - one of her most precious and treasured gifts - to a stranger in a strange city, but let’s get real here. We stood in the middle of airport security with several armed officers and a narrow path to the open airport. Where was I going to go? Plus, one look at me and you know I’m not exactly built like a speedster. If I had malicious intent in any way, I would have been toast. So the risk this young mother took with me was pretty minimal, all things considered. As the baby squirmed in my unfamiliar arms, upset at his rude awakening and probably confused by my voice, I did my best to keep him calm and his pacifier in his mouth. My husband, having gathered his things, stood by patiently smiling at me, just making sure he stayed out of the way.
As I rocked this little one back and forth, I marveled at the privilege. It was such a small thing, holding a baby for a few minutes in an airport while a young family got themselves reorganized and ready for their flight home. Goodness knows I’d had plenty of practice baby-holding my own kidlets, and then years of playing “Pass The Baby” in women’s ministry at church. I didn’t have the first clue how to put their three-in-one stroller back together that had been stripped even of its wheels. But rocking a baby to sleep in my plumpish squishy arms? Yeah. I could do that. I made sure to stay within easy sight and reach of Mom, and the female security officer overseeing the entire process smiled at me.
Five minutes later, Mom carefully extracted her baby from my arms and deposited him into his cozy blankets where he snuggled back to sleep in a matter of seconds. The preschool boy, stuffed animal in one hand and Mom’s hand in the other, began bouncing with excitement as if he’d just remembered they were going on a plane again. Dad hoisted the last of the family’s bags on his shoulders and with a thankful smile at me and my husband, off they went to find their gate.
I’ve thought of those moments several times in the few weeks since they happened. I really did feel the privilege of being entrusted with this woman’s baby, honored that I could offer her (and the dear little guy) some comfort in the middle of stress. I enjoyed those moments of rocking a precious one, and didn’t care how ridiculous the whole scene must have looked to the outsiders streaming past. I’m sure plenty of them thought of me and this young family as mere obstacles in the course of their busy days of travel. But me? I was enraptured by the preciousness of the beloved bundle in my arms. A bundle that wasn’t mine.
And I’ve thought about the times that my life has felt disassembled and strewn out all over the place, scattered in too many directions for me to grab hold of all the pieces. In those moments, I tend to grasp more tightly to the things most dear to me, not wanting to break contact in case they fly off or get lost in the shuffle. My instinct is to draw inward and envelope myself around the most vulnerable places of my life and my heart, not letting anyone touch them, let alone carry them for me for even a few minutes. Instead of calmly accepting help when it’s offered, I’m more likely to lash out in frustration, complicating matters even more. If extra hands are offered, I might reject them as insults pointing out my failure to keep things together.
But this Mom accepted the grace offered, and offered me the grace in return of a few moments carrying her most precious burden.
This is a lesson I desperately need to learn - to let others help when my life blows apart.
Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. (Galatians 6:2)
I’ve had seasons where I watched my life scatter into millions of pieces. And I’ve been graced with enough good friends who’ve been right there to carry the things most precious to me: my hopes, my dreams, even my calling. When I didn’t have what it takes to pull things back together and keep my dreams alive, I had faithful people in my life (my husband among them) who have carried my dreams for me. They speak them back over me even now, returning them to my heart and mind for me to tend and grow. When I was too overwhelmed to hold on to them, these dear ones stepped in and carried them for me.
What grace and love they’ve shown! So why would I fight them? Why would any of us hesitate to accept hands freely offered and place in them even the dearest parts of our hearts and lives? And yet, our culture teaches us that accepting help is weakness, and weakness is vulnerability, and anyone who sees your vulnerability will take advantage and hurt you, so DO NOT BE WEAK! But this isn’t the law of Christ that calls us to love one another, my friends. Love requires vulnerability as well as trust.
And why would any of hesitate to offer our loving arms when we see others with their lives blown apart? I tell you, holding that baby in the airport was one of my favorite memories from that trip, and the trip was fantastic. We can step up and carry each other’s burdens, dreams, and precious life parts for a little while, giving each other space to push the reset button. Then, we return what’s rightfully theirs, speaking love and grace back over them as they continue in the life God calls them to. We can hold each other’s vulnerabilities in trustworthy ways, never shaming, never taking advantage, but carrying them in our arms like the precious bundles they are.
And that would just be the most beautiful thing.
The truth is that not everyone is trustworthy, and people do sometimes hurt us when our weakness shows. We can hand over our burdened hearts and the ones we entrust them to might just bail on us. It’s brokenness in a broken world, and we shouldn’t be surprised. But let’s not be like the world when it comes to our families of faith. Instead of seeing another’s vulnerability and weakness as an opportunity for judgment or advantage, let’s see an opportunity for grace. Offer and then accept the grace to carry another’s burden and experience the joy of being entrusted with it, even for a few moments. Let’s prove ourselves worthy of that trust by rocking that burden in our arms as if it is our own, conscious of the risk the other has taken and careful to stay near. And when it’s our lives lying in pieces and someone comes to offer their extra hands, let’s give them the grace of being entrusted with the precious parts of ourselves, too.