There is a story about two monks in the Middle Ages (an older monk and one of the younger monks) who were traveling cross country for a visit to a remote monastery. At one point, the road they were traveling on came to a stream. There was a woman there who asked them if they could help her cross the stream. The older monk replied that he would be happy to help her and immediately picked her up and waded across the stream. When they got to the other side the woman thanked them and went on her way, and the two monks went their way. About an hour later the younger monk said to the older monk: “Brother, I don’t think it was appropriate that you picked up that woman and carried her across the stream.” The older monk replied. “Brother are you still carrying that woman with you? I put her down the minute we got across the stream. I’m surprised you are still carrying her.”
Like the young monk in the story above, I suspect that all of us “carry” things with us that we need to put down. It could be a grudge, an old hurt, a painful or embarrassing moment from the past, or a memory of something we did that was wrong. We hold these things close, and seldom, if ever, speak of them with others. These things weight us down and hinder our growth. They take up space in our minds and hearts and spirits, and in extreme cases can prevent us from moving forward with our life.
I’m not sure exactly why we “carry” around these things, but I do know that prayer can help us put them down—for a while at least—and eventually forever. The image I like to use is that of an ice cube. When you hold an ice cube in your hand for a few moments and the exterior begins to warms to the touch of your hand, if you put it down and then take it up again a few minutes later, a part of it remains on the surface where you placed it. While it may be only a drop, it is not as big as it was.
And so it is when we bring our cares, woes, hurts, grudges and pain to prayer. If we can leave them with God for a few minutes, while we may take them up again, a part of them stays with God and they are not as big as when we first brought them to prayer. And if we continue to practice bringing those things we “carry” around with us to prayer, we may discover one day that we have left them with God and we no longer carry them with us.
Like the young monk, sometimes we carry things with us that we shouldn’t be carrying and that we need to put down. Prayer is a great place to bring these things. And God is always ready and more than willing to take these burdens away from us.