The Gift of a Burden
Jul 22, 2012
It’s amazing how telling people about your SSA changes your perspective on the matter.
I just reconnected with my old friend J. I called because he had just broken off his engagement and I thought he might be a mess about it. Turned out he was more or less okay; eventually the conversation turned, like they usually do with J. (even when he is not engaged, he tends to have marriage on the brain) to my romantic prospects. “Anybody in your life right now?” he wanted to know.
“Meh,” I thought, and said: “Yeah, not really. I’m gay, J.”
Pause. “I’m — not sure if you’re joking or not right now.”
“No, it’s true,” I laugh, “no joking here. I’m gay.” Man, this is easier than it used to be.
So we talked about that for a little while and then went on to other stuff. That “meh,” as a prelude to telling what used to be my Deep Dark Secret, felt good. Experience has shown me over and over that my SSA just doesn’t matter to the people that I consider friends.
A recent email from a reader1 made me think back to an earlier time and an earlier attitude. The reader, who also has SSA, was considering telling a relative about it, but he wasn’t sure if he should. He said he had to consider his motives carefully, and whether he would only be telling his relative out of a desire for consolation.
I don’t know this reader’s whole story, and I can’t judge his situation. I don’t blame him for feeling as he does, because I remember feeling that way. Besides, the reason he gave for not telling is probably only one of seventy, each of which needs consideration. In other words, I pray that neither he nor anybody else takes what I am about to say as a judgment on them.
But of all the reasons to tell or not to tell, I think this is a very bad one.
One of the first people I ever told was my friend Hilda in college. I remember standing with her in a secluded corner of the campus, wrestling with the decision, knowing she was watching me wrestle without knowing what I was wrestling with. I remember saying, with the intense gravity that characterized almost every second of my life at that time: “It’s just that I wouldn’t want to burden you with this.”
“Steve,” she said. “Don’t you know that you would be giving me a gift?”
You men and women with SSA, if you are wondering whether this knowledge will be a burden to your friends, think of this: how did you feel the last time a friend of yours told you about something awful they were going through? Did you wish he hadn’t? Or did you feel honored? Was it a burden or a gift?
Or maybe you don’t have friends who confide in you. Are you glad that nobody burdens you with the knowledge of what they carry? Or do you wish they would?
Many of us grew up carrying heavy things all by ourselves, usually out of emotional necessity: we just weren’t able to believe that people wouldn’t run away screaming or retching. We were so disgusted with ourselves that we thought everybody else would be, too.
But carrying heavy things by ourselves can habituate us to the notion that we are charged with a unique and terrible cross, that it is our job to suffer in a special way, that suffering is even our calling. Many of us, probably without realizing it, even come to believe that God wants us to suffer, actively desires it.
Not true. Not true, not true, not true. Whatever God is like, He’s not like that. Carefully read Lamentations 3: “The LORD is good to those who wait for him, to anyone who seeks help from him…He does not willingly bring suffering or grief to anyone.”
Jesus didn’t tell the woman with the hemorrhage that it was her job to suffer, and he didn’t tell it to the thousands of other people who came to him all day long for healing. What makes us any different?
I’m not saying to run out and tell everybody everything all the time. Sometimes it’s not their business, and sometimes your motives might really be bad. But consider this: asking help is an act of trust and an act of love; it can sometimes be a greater act of love than giving help. And wanting help, wanting consolation — that’s not bad. That’s human. That’s good.
I don’t know about you, but I need all the help I can get.