The Burden: a poem of brokenness and calling

by Erica Shelley

Amy Carmichael, a missionary to India, was broken by the reality of child temple prostitution and was moved to action.  In 1904, Amy was praying and saw a vision of Jesus kneeling amongst trees; she sensed that he was asking her to share his burden.

Reflecting in a private autobiography, Amy later wrote:

“Sometimes it was as if I saw the Lord Jesus Christ kneeling alone, as He knelt long ago under the olive trees. The trees were tamarind now, the tamarinds that I see as I look up from this writing. And the only thing that one who cared could do, was to go softly and kneel down beside Him, so that He would not be alone in His sorrow over the little children.”

This poem is inspired by Amy’s vision, and by all the times Jesus draws us in to share one of his burdens. 


I found Jesus
Kneeling in a garden
A wild garden.
Not amongst olive trees,
But amongst birch,
Pine needles under his knees.
A warm spring wind blew through,
Waves rippling through the leaves.
He was off the trail,
Except for the raven
And the chickadees. 


I had been walking,
I had thought I had discovered something,
Something he had long ignored.
I was broken by an injustice,
Burned by its ugliness,
Shocked by how unfair.
I was raging at him,
“Don’t you care?”


I thought I had discovered something,
But around that corner
He was ahead of me,
Already there.
His shoulders were heavy,
And tears ran into his beard.
The burden was already his;
It wasn’t mine for me to share. 


I felt the pull to draw closer,
Felt compelled to kneel beside.
His words, unspoken,
Dropped like a stone
Into my deepest well inside.


“Will you let yourself be broken,
Be poured out for me?
Will you surrender yourself here,
Will you let me sift through every fear?
Will you walk with me into darkness,
Will you tolerate the pain?
Will you give up your comforts,
Will you allow yourself to be changed?
Will you open your eyes,
Will you choose to care?
Will you kneel with me before the Father,
Ready to see and hear?
Will you pray, ‘Your will be done,
Your Kingdom come?’
Your own kingdom must be released.” 


His questions can’t be answered;
I can only cry.
I know it is going to be a journey,
Death to self
A daily fight.
I hold the cross before me,
And the world dims behind.
Jesus, go before me,
Jesus, walk alongside.
Jesus, give me strength
To lay down my life. 



Erica Shelley is a mother, writer and teacher. She spent three years living in Uganda, where she taught at a Christian school in Kampala. She has also had opportunities to do short-term literacy work in Ghana and in remote Indigenous communities in Canada. She currently lives in northern Ontario, Canada, with her husband and two sons, and continues to wrestle with what a missional life looks like in different contexts. Erica can be found on Instagram as ericamshelley.


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A Life Overseas is a collective blog centered around the realities, ethics, spiritual struggles, and strategies of living overseas. Elizabeth Trotter is the editor-in-chief.

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