May 12, 2006

Broad shoulders and few surprises
by John Fischer

Every few days, while a quote by Rick Warren is gracing Starbucks cups across the country, our devotional will be related in some way to the communal coffee experience and appear on a special site we designed for potential first-time visitors. Come visit us at the Purpose Driven Cafe.

I spent the weekend recently at a men’s conference and came to appreciate the host of the event. At 6 foot 7 inches, he is the equivalent of a big teddy bear – make that a teddy grizzly. In an exchange of e-mails following the conference, we both admitted to a lack of deep friendships – mostly the result of our own admitted tendency to not want any.

In one of our exchanges he wrote, «In any event, if you ever get discouraged or need a sounding board, please don’t hesitate to contact me. My brow may be thick, but my shoulders are broad, and candidly, not too much surprises me anymore.»

I love that. You don’t hear this kind of thing from just anybody. In fact if you hear it at all, you are a fortunate person. His statement contains two elements necessary before a relationship can grow: a willingness to bear another’s burden and a commitment to total acceptance.

Though they are sufficiently broad, the shoulders he’s offering are not physical; they are emotional. We are all called to «bear one another’s burdens and thereby fulfill the law of Christ,» and later «for each one will bear his own load.» (Galatians 6:2, 5) That is to say: There are burdens and then there are burdens. There are certain weights of responsibility we are all expected to carry, but there will always be heavy loads too big for one set of shoulders. This is when we need someone to help shoulder our burden.

Keeping in mind that shouldering a burden doesn’t mean solving it; it means simply to help carry it. Men usually have more trouble with this than women, because we naturally want to fix things. But this, of course, is impossible. It’s a burden precisely because we can’t fix it. No one can except God, and he for some reason unknown to us has chosen not to.

Then there’s the second part: If I’m going to bear up under someone else’s burden, I’ve got to be willing to take whatever they’ve got. Sometimes the very nature of a burden is that it is something we don’t want anyone to know – a dark secret that does not want to be told. This is exactly why we bear too much alone; we have too much to hide and too much at stake.

My new friend’s invitation cut through all of this self-protection. «Not too much surprises me anymore,» he said. In essence, he was leaving an open door on telling him anything. If our relationships are shallow, it is because they are defined by what is comfortable. We live by unwritten laws not to rock the boat while we drift by each other, waving casually from our respective sinking ships.

The reality of a relationship is measured by the level of truth about yourself you are willing to impart to another person. And if you have someone who does not require you to measure everything before you say it, you have a real friend.

May we all have broader shoulders for our friends and not too much that surprises us.


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