My closest girlfriends have nicknamed my therapist Marg, probably because I talk about her so much. I’m already an introspective woman, but it’s amazing what a good therapist can cull out of you.
Once in a good season I threatened Marg that I’d cause trouble in my own life just to be able to keep seeing her. Sometimes I go in there and bawl my little cliché head off, but other times I go in there and we slap our knees. We laugh hard together. I tell her my funny stories, and it feels a lot like friendship, except I pay her and she can question my motives at every turn and bold-faced call me names like martyr. Once I considered breaking up with her as my therapist just so we could be actual friends, but wisdom told me better.
It’s strange how good it feels to laugh, isn’t it? Those are the things we think about with a smile before we go to sleep at night. She laughed with me, I’ll think, and I hold friendships with ones who laugh and cry with me very close to my heart. I’ll think about a laugh hours later, not because laughter is a rare exchange for me, but because it’s an element in friendship that lightens my load. It always takes me by surprise.
One time Marg asked me about my friendships, about the role I play. I told her as far back as I could remember I have been the friend to call in times of trouble. She was seeing a theme in my life. I’ve identified myself as a fixer, and in fact, there’s not a stage I can remember not loving that role. It’s the thing I have to offer. I’m a burden bearer, the big sister, the secret keeper, and I love it.
The problem is when Burden Bearer is the only name you call yourself, when you begin to think the world will fall apart if you’re not there to hold it together. Marg asked me: Who are the friends you’ve called this week? I had called the friend having a miscarriage, the friend struggling with addiction, and the friend in the middle of a divorce. I wouldn’t have it any other way, and I hope these friends would call me were I in the same situation.
Once in a while I can find myself in particularly tough season, like the rest of you humans. My parents divorced this year, and these are things you can’t write about online. In fact this is the first time I’ve mentioned it. I didn’t want to see it in print. I didn’t want it to be true, the single most painful event of my life.
It’s opened my eyes even wider to how many of us are hurting in silence. Life keeps going. We’re leading in churches, folding all the clothes, running meetings, and buying groceries with a searing wound in our hearts. In times like this it’s interesting to see all the ways we hide and cope.
Somewhere along the way, I came to believe it was my soul purpose on earth to take on all the problems so those around me would be okay. If I can hold it all together, maybe I’ll keep them from pain. But the truth is this: If I can deal with their pain, then maybe I won’t have to deal with mine.
At the end of last year, I broke. In fact, this is the kindest of mercies during my parent’s divorce. I was hurting and piling on the pain of others until I finally broke. I finally saw it because I literally couldn’t bear up under it. I fell apart because I am not the fixer.
I am not the fixer. Say it with me.
I’ve prayed for help to give my burdens and the burdens of others to God, but I never really believed until this year that He is the Fixer.
To believe that God is the Healer and the light-load sharer has brought more healing to my life than I’ve experienced in years. It’s crazy how faith in His good character will do that.
Now I call my friends simply because they’re my friends. Yes, sometimes they’re hurting, but equally so am I. Other times we’re just laughing. My capacity to be a burden bearer is much greater now, because I don’t even pretend to hold up under pain. My friendships feel more whole because things don’t rest on me for long. I’m a better friend, because I’m taking my own heart to the Healer instead of hiding it in other people’s problems. I’m a better friend because I’m closer to laughter now than I’ve ever been.
So tell me this. Are you a fixer? Is there a pain under all the burden bearing you’re trying to ignore? I promise it’s worth it to live like you’re not the answer. I promise that a woman who withholds the burden from God is not the woman you should be calling in times of trouble. Call the woman who laughs. Be that woman.