s Thoughts from the Physics Chick: burdens

Saturday, November 26, 2005


Melyngoch and I were talking the other day about how we hate talking to our bishops about our problems. Not even in a confessional way, we just hate having to burden them with whatever isn’t going right in our lives – the sins and cares of an entire ward seems like a lot to carry, and one hates to further burden them. Probably this is the wrong attitude. Probably they are given the strength to handle it somehow, although I think I’d hate to be in such a position.

Of course, it occurs to me that I don’t feel unreasonably burdened by hearing about my friends’ problems. I can call or visit Melyngoch and we can talk for a couple of hours and both of us can talk about what’s hard in our lives right now, and I think we both come away feeling better, overall. So it’s clearly not a zero sum endeavor.

But I’m not the type to wear my heart on my sleeve, and I can only share my problems with a very few, close friends. It’s just natural reticence – half a desire not to seem like I’m whining or complaining and half a genuine wish not to have most people know what’s going on in my life. You may genuinely want to help or be a sympathetic ear, but I’ll actually be happier if only a small group knows what’s troubling me at any given moment – your sympathetic looks will only remind me that I’m to be pitied and cause me even more pain. Or, worse, you will turn out to have very little patience for actual problems behind your caring facade.

* * *

I wondered, idly, what life would be like if we could all see each other’s burdens. I pictured them like brightly colored marbles in a glass jar. Would the cashier at the lunch counter be kinder to the girl who’d cried herself to sleep the night before? Would I be less jealous of the gorgeous girl with an eating disorder? Would we be surprised to see doubt in the minds of those we thought were firm, or fear in those we thought were brave? Would we find solace in seeing others with our same problems, or despair in seeing weakness in everyone? Would we be better off, or would it be too much to handle? Would we avoid acknowledging people with problems the way we ignore the homeless and wear sunglasses to avoid making eye contact with anyone?

I think some people genuinely do have a gift of seeing the problems of others, and maybe a gift of offering empathy or wise counsel. And I think that anyone who’s been through a particular trial is more sensitive and better able to recognize others who are going through the same thing, whether it be the quiet pain in an infertile woman’s eyes or the sad resignation of a recently broken heart.

Maybe heaven will be like my glass jar of marbles, for better or for worse.


At November 27, 2005 2:29 AM, Blogger Saule Cogneur said...

You’re completely right about bishops. That’s why listening to everyday struggles is technically the duty of the elder’s quorum president. I guess it’s one of those things that people just forgot about.

I feel the same way as you about discussing my problems. On most days, I tell between none and zero about them. The things I struggle with are too much for all but maybe my closest friends. It’s like asking my dad a math or chemistry question. I’m looking for a five minute “this is how it goes” answer, but I get a 60 minute “this is how it works, what it means, why you should care” answer. His answer is great but usually more than I need or more than I can digest. Now, I see myself as my father and my friends as me. Strange.

I’m glad that I don’t have to see every person’s marbles; I don’t think I’m strong enough yet. On the other hand, I do wish I could see the marbles of the people I care about without having to drag it out of them. No one wants to look like they’re asking for pity.

At November 27, 2005 4:03 PM, Blogger bawb said...

Wow, Katya. I would really like to see more posts like this from you; this was really thought-provoking.

Personally, I think I would be better for it. When I sense that people are putting on a likeable face, I immediately dismiss them as fake. Then 'Brozy reminds me that they're probably really self-conscious and thirsty for acceptance, and I feel horrible until I forget the perspective and resume my stiff-neckedness.

At November 28, 2005 9:27 AM, Blogger Peter said...

I happen to agree with you. I don't think I'll be sharing any burdens with the bishop any time soon. Unless I happen to have my long-awaited emotional breakdown in his office when he demands to know why I'm not getting anything done in my calling. Now that would be interesting.

At November 28, 2005 11:10 AM, Blogger Tolkien Boy said...

Despite the fact that I complain constantly, I tell very few people what things I am distressed over. I liked your glass jar analogy...it works better than my huge backpack o'burden analogy.

Elder Eyring once said, "If we treat everyone as if they are recovering from some sizeable trauma, we will be right fifty percent of the time."

At November 28, 2005 11:26 AM, Blogger ambrosia ananas said...

I think that I might be distracted for a while, feeling like everyone was broken and we were all doomed. But I think in the end, it would be helpful.

Because I'd be able to look at people I admire and see that they too had a green marble, or a tiger's eye. And instead of seeing that as a flaw, I could see it as something they were working to overcome, which would help me to learn to deal with my own green or tiger's eye.

And while there are times when I don't tell people what's going on, there are other times that I feel like it only makes me a liar to pretend that I'm not struggling with certain problems. And with those sorts of problems, it helps to have people look at me, see that I swirly marble that looks vaguely like Jupiter, and keep liking me anyway.

But you may be right that such perspective isn't for everyone right now. Certainly, we might be inclined to judge people in ways that we oughtn't. So for now, we can share our problems with the few instead of the many, and help and be helped as best we can.

At November 28, 2005 1:00 PM, Blogger JB said...

I've heard that psychiatrists have the highest supposedly-occupationally-related suicide rates... maybe that's part of why bishops don't hold that calling usually (hopefully!) for more than a few years. I do think they're blessed with some ways of coping with things, though.

I love the kinds of things you have to say. Just wanted to let you know.

Also, I've thought it could be community-strengthening if people were allowed to admit to certain struggles. Sometimes it feels like we're not allowed to share them so as not to encourage a sin, but I think it'd just encourage understanding from other people with the same struggles.

On the other hand, some things really are nobody's business but your own and maybe your close aquaintances'.

I have some (insignificant) things that I keep 100% to myself. I relish having a part of me that no one else has access to. It's soothing. Not in a "nursing old wounds" way, but in a "nobody knows that I like to ___ when I ___" sort of way. It's nice.

At November 29, 2005 2:39 AM, Blogger Thirdmango said...

It takes a long time for me to ever go to my bishop with problems. There's only one bishop I can think of that I did, and I think I went to him twice. It's the Introvert in me.

At November 29, 2005 5:59 PM, Blogger FoxyJ said...

I don't think I've ever gone to a bishop to talk about my problems. I never thought of that as an option, and I've never felt that close to one. I always thought you only had to talk to the bishop for repentence and stuff. But, I also don't really talk to anyone about my problems, so that's probably not very healthy either...

At December 02, 2005 2:24 PM, Blogger Katya said...

Just to clarify, all, I didn't actually seek out the bishop to tell him my problems, I just, um, sort of burst into tears during a fairly routine interview, so I kind of had to explain.

bawb - I could try to post more stuff like this, but I don't think that I have really deep thoughts very often. So it's back to more fluff. :)


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