Friday, 10 May 2013

In appreciation of burdens

Arriving at Bournemouth hospital (year 2000) in the small hours of the morning with my sick body writhing in pain I found myself wheeled into an old people's ward; all others were full! It was a veritable farmyard experience with grunts, snores, shrieks and other unmentionable noises leaving the air smelling like a plowed turnip field. I wanted out, I did not belong. I pulled the covers over my head and hummed.

Day however brought about a new perspective. Nurses speaking tenderly to the old lady in pain, laughing and joking with the wards chatterbox, or sheltering the embarrassed with an NHS no nonsense bed bath. Relatives arrived in the afternoon pleased to touch the wrinkled hand, kissing the fevered brow, bringing gifts new and familiar to brighten each small world. What struck me most was the delight most staff and visitors shared in carrying a loved one’s burden.

The legislative fight for voluntary euthanasia is without doubt complex and needing great wisdom from the many involved, particularly the doctors and nurses, clergy, politicians etc. with life and death legal decisions to make. We must pray with great compassion for all those who suffer and for those seeking to address the complexities of this important issue.

I wanted to simply address the common mantra, "I don't want to be burden to anyone" to those of us who are believers.  I would like to ask, “when did being a burden” become something to be avoided. Babies arrive burdensome. In fact it takes a Transit van or garage to store baby burden equipment. Mothers bodies are not their own, fathers learn the happy art of nappy changing, and sound sleep becomes a distant memory as Zombie-like adults are consumed with their precious little burdens.

Interesting to reflect that God became a burden, a baby in need as any other human child. Even in his hour of greatest need at Calvary where we read of his betrayal and abandonment from his Father and his disciples we glimpse burden carriers. His mother, with a few of his closest, cried, cared and took his bruised and bloodied body. They then washed, wrapped and laid it carefully to rest in the tomb. Jesus became a burden as well as a burden carrier. It was Jesus who encouraged his disciples to take up their cross daily and it is Paul who writes, “carry one another's burdens and in this way you fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal 6:2).

I wonder in our modern world that places happiness as almost a human right and the ultimate goal of human existence, if suffering, sickness and even death need to be legally sanitized and brushed under an easily available and presentable NHS bed sheet! We all desire a good death, as free from pain as possible, and as far removed from public view, embarrassment and avoiding all those costly care and drugs (particularly if we are beneficiaries of the relatives will). But is it biblical and should we not embrace the burdens God gives each one of us with faith?

Let me finish by talking of a dear friend of mine. A church leader married for over 50 years who has for the past 4 years held his beloveds hand as she has battled with Alzheimer’s. He has never once in my hearing complained and watching his pure delight in caring for his wife in her confusion and distress I am reminded of the 16th century Bishop who said "Marriage has less beauty but more safety, it is full of sorrows and full of joys. It lies under more burdens but is supported by all the strengths of love and those burdens are delightful!"

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