Monday, December 3, 2018

Does God give us crosses that are wider than our shoulders? I’m quite certain that he does, and for good reason.

I have come across spiritual musings and reflections from various sources that share a common opinion given to those who are experiencing burdens and afflictions in life, and it is this – that God won’t or doesn’t load us with crosses to bear that are too big for our shoulders.  As much as this sounds comforting and assuring, it also can become a cliché, or worse, something that prevents us from nurturing the virtue of humility that is so crucial for a soul to attain holiness and sanctification.

If our burdens and trials in life are just right for our shoulders to bear, then we will be able to do everything that we face in life, simply on our own efforts and our own wills.  The narrative of our times seems to support this idea as well – that if we want to do anything, we only need to apply ourselves to the fullest, and our goals will be attained or achieved.  There are so many commencement speeches at the graduation ceremonies of Universities or Colleges that one can view on YouTube, and they often feature a presentation by a person of some celebrity or corporation bigwig, and the common feature of so many of them is this – don’t let anyone tell you that you cannot achieve anything you want.  The hidden message (and sometimes not so hidden) is that we need to make the world all about us.  And when we do, we can overcome any obstacles in our path to success and worldly glory.

While these speeches may set the fresh graduates running off into the world to conquer it, armed with their degrees with printing ink still wet, we need to realise that there could be a downside to all this “we-can-do-anything” narrative.  To be sure, it won’t be a long time before they realise that life doesn’t fit its challenges according to the width of our shoulders.  We only need to look further afield from our workplaces to see that there are other challenges and afflictions, and things that set our world in turmoil to see that there are many difficulties in life that are more than we can bear alone.

With the eyes of faith, we are called to see our challenges and afflictions as things that are placed in our lives not to make life difficult, but so that we can grow.  These include, but are not limited to things like failures, betrayals, serious illnesses and other losses.  But I have also, especially of late, come to see that God doesn’t give us challenges that merely fit our shoulders.  He gives us crosses much bigger than we can bear, but for good reason.  Chiefly, it is so that we will humble ourselves to ask for God’s grace, aid and ultimately mercy.  

I am quite certain that we will be so full of hubris if we were to be able to carry all our burdens and manage our pains merely on our own energies and our strong wills.  It would be akin to presenting St Peter a perfect and unblemished report card of our life on earth at the gates of heaven and having a sense of entitlement to a place in paradise.  Just like forgiveness from God, no one deserves heaven either.  It is truly all grace, and our call in life is to cooperate as fully as we can to God’s offer of grace at each moment in our lives.

St Catherine of Sienna is known to have had a locution, where she encountered the Lord saying to her “I created you without you, but I will not save you without you.”  In that short and pithy sentence lies an unfathomable depth of God’s immense grace and God’s incredible humility.  God truly wants our deepest cooperation, and until we understand just how crucial our self-giving is, we will, all of us, find ourselves holding back from giving our all to God.

So, if you find yourself puzzled as to why your cross in life is much bigger than your shoulders, know that it is so that you can call on God for his divine aid.  Pride comes in many forms, and one of them is the refusal to reveal our weaknesses.


  1. “– that God won’t or doesn’t load us with crosses to bear that are too big for our shoulders.” -
    I’m guilty of this thought and in fact derives much comfort from it. Somehow believing in this reduces my anxiety and makes any trial or tribulation more bearable, taking courage in my favorite prayer ........”Alone with none but thee my God I journey on my way.What need I fear when thou art near O King of night and day.....”

    However, what you have written in your blog is thought provoking and reflecting on it in the light of recent developments in my life , it seemed not only plausible but highly convincing.

    Sometimes one catastrophe piles up on top of another and before one realizes it, the terra firma that one is familiar with has been swept clean away! One is winded. Where there was hope of a comforting hand or loving whisper....there was only Silence. One frantically clutches for a foot-hold, a hand-hold....even wisps of straw but there’s nothing......and yes, the burden, the cross has become more of a tombstone, burying one into the dirt. ...the cross is now too broad for one’s shoulder. It’s a desolate feeling of abandonment, a wanting to get up no more. One can give in to mocking oneself....”and now where is your God?”......especially so when the hours stretch into days of no improvement in the pain and darkness.

    However, if one let go of struggling and stops fretting too much, but allows time and patience to hold sway......a quietude ensues .......perhaps it is in this humble submitting to Mystery that His Spirit ( given to us at Baptism) has the chance to spread its healing balm on the wounded soul. Then, it does not seem to matter much whether one’s cross is too broad because when one’s eye gets focused -back once more on His Cross’s own

    Thanks for a timely reflection.
    God bless you, Fr.


  2. Thank you Fr. Luke for your sharing. I can personally attest to it being true that God gives us seemingly heavy burdens because God wants us to look to Him, to seek Him and lift our burdens to Him, and to trust in Him and His plan for us.

    And I find Jeremiah 29:11-14 especially comforting because I know that if He brings me to it (suffering), He will bring me through it.

    "For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.”