When all the problems were too much to bear

She asked me if I’d ever heard the saying about the monkey on your back.

“No,” I said. My eyes were red, and I held a crumpled tissue in my hand.

I listened intently as she shared her wisdom.

monkeysImagine that someone is carrying a monkey on their back. That monkey is their problem.

They try to hand it to you. Thinking you are being helpful, you take the monkey.

But there is a new problem. The monkey is now on your back. The problem is no longer theirs. It is yours.

And soon, you have a back full of other people’s monkeys. They jump and scream and climb over one another. You teeter under their weight until you’re on the verge of collapse.

Then, finally, you break.

As I listened to her explanation, I began to see where I had gone wrong. I had been taking other people’s monkeys.

A friend came to me with a problem, and I made it mine. Another friend shared frustration, and I claimed it as my own. When someone had a struggle, it became my struggle. One by one, I’d taken them on myself. And I’d lost count of how many there were.

I felt physically sick—my shoulders and head ached, and my stomach felt queasy. I felt emotionally shaky. For nothing, I would burst into inconsolable sobs. I felt spiritually dry, as if my mouth were too dry from exhaustion to find the words to pray.

The shouts of the monkeys grew louder, drowning out not only my good judgment, but also the comforting whisper of the Holy Spirit.

“Come to me, you who are weary, and I will give you rest.”

I couldn’t rest—couldn’t rest because the load was too heavy, couldn’t rest because I felt like I had to find a solution, couldn’t rest because I was carrying everyone else’s problems.

I had taken “bear each other’s burdens” way too far. Bearing each other’s burdens doesn’t mean that we take the other person’s problem from them, but that we find ways to help them through. It doesn’t mean we try to play the hero, the savior. It means we direct them to the Savior, the ultimate Hero.

As I looked back at all the recent drama, I cried under the woman’s wise counsel. Tears of shame mingled with tears of relief. What made me  think that I could single-handedly make all the drama go away? Why had I thought I could fix everyone and everything? Who was I, to think that it was my job to find all the answers?

I had been so incredibly foolish. But now, I felt free.

I was free from carrying everyone else’s monkeys. I was free from trying to fix things that were out of my control, some of which were none of my business to begin with. I was free from the pressure of all those problems.

It’s like another great saying someone else shared with me: Not my circus, not my monkeys.

And I made a resolution: Stop trying to fix everyone else. Stop trying to solve all the problems. No more monkeys for me.

(I never did like monkeys, that much, anyway.)

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