By Derick Cranston
What do you do when your life is crumbling in all around you? When all your dreams and expectations are shattered, and all the king’s horse and all the king’s men cannot put Humpty Dumpty back together again?
It is a question that many of us inevitably have to ask ourselves. Whether it is the illness or death of a loved one, job loss, divorce, and many other life events which cause us grief and suffering, it can feel like the world around you is caving in and crushing down upon you.
There is an old Russian fable told by the religious-philosopher Soloviev about a hunter lost in a deserted forest. Tired, he sat on a stone by a broad raging river. He sat and stared into the dark depths and the hunter’s soul became grieved. “I am alone in life, like I am alone in this forest. It has been a long time since I lost my way on various paths and there’s no exit for me from these wanderings.” Just then someone tapped him on the shoulder. He looked around and there stood an old humpbacked woman bent over and dressed in nothing but rags.
She told him that on the other side of the river was a little town, a pure paradise, where he would forget all his woes and heartaches. As she was too weak and feeble to cross the river herself, she needed him to carry her across and she would show him the way to the town. The hunter did not quite believe her story, and was not even sure that he could cross the river by himself, much less carrying someone else across. But he looked into her old haggard face and took pity upon her. He told himself, “Why not. My life has hit rock bottom and I have nothing else to lose.”
She climbed upon his back and at first it was very difficult, but he kept on walking. Midway through the river he was about to collapse from exhaustion. But when he took the next step it was a little less difficult, and the journey became easier and easier with every step he took. When he got to the other side of the river he looked back on the woman and instead of an old woman, he saw an indescribably beautiful lady. She led him to her homeland and his soul was uplifted and all his heartaches and woes disappeared.
Like the huntsman in the Russian fable, we too must keep on walking. If we shoulder our burdens and trudge through the unpredictable currents of the river of life, we can make it to the other side. We must look straight into the old worn face of our torments and sufferings, and accept them for what they are. We shoulder them, plunge into everyday life, and just keep walking. It takes courage and faith to do this. We can find courage and faith throughout Scripture. We can find it in the Son who loved us so much that “Although he was in the form of God he did not deem equality with God something to be grasped at. Instead he emptied himself and took the form of a slave, accepting death, even death on a cross.”
We keep on walking and the Lord will lead us safely through the Red Sea. We keep on walking as long as it takes, even for 40 years to get to the Promised Land. We pick up our cross and carry it, walking up the hill to Calvary. We stumble and stumble again on our journey, but we keep on walking. No matter what our burden is, we can embrace it and take it one step at a time. Just when we think we cannot go any further, the grace of God will give us the strength to keep moving. Are you carrying the weight of heartache and suffering upon your shoulders? Do you sometimes feel that you cannot go on any longer? If so, take courage and have faith…and keep on walking.
(Derick Cranston is youth minister for St. Mary Parish in Riverside, Holy Trinity Parish in Richmond and St. Joseph Parish in Wellman. He is going through diaconate formation and can be reached at email@example.com.)