Burdens Not Meant to Bear
Sandi’s brother Alex died because of her. Yes, Marcos killed Alex in a drive-by shooting, but it was her fault.
Sandi was fifteen when Alex died. His murder was the most devastating event in her life. She was dating a wanna-be gang member named Romero. Alex hated Romero and Sandi knew it. Secretly, she liked that her brother was so protective of her and wanted her to break up with her boyfriend. But she also loved the fun they were having going out and cruising the town.
The night of Alex's murder, they fought for the hundredth time.
Alex confronted Romero earlier and threatened him, telling him to stay away from his sister. Standing in the room screaming at Alex, Sandi seethed with anger and disgust at her brother's high and mighty attitude. Not to mention, he took her last cigarette, and she had no money left to buy more.
"You can do better, Sandi!" Alex yelled as she stormed out of the room.
Sandi didn't hear his truck start, but the pelting of hundreds of pebbles bouncing off the mobile home resounded his anger as he spun gravel speeding out of the carport. Her anger intensified that he chickened-out of the argument.
Two hours later, her anger was gone and replaced by the jarring news of Alex's murder in, what appeared to be a gang-related, drive-by shooting. Immediately, she knew Romero was involved, and it was all her fault!
Ten years later, Sandi asked to meet with Marcos, the man in prison for murdering Alex. The jury convicted Alex of the crime, but she was guilty, too.
Marcos was one of the few offenders I worked with as a mediator that took full responsibility for the crime from the moment we met. In fact, he was devastated to learn that Sandi felt responsible as well. Throughout the preparation, he agonized over the words he would say to ensure he didn't cause more harm to Sandi.
He explained that while he knew Romero and was at his apartment that day, there was never any discussion of Sandi or what happened with Alex. Marcos said of himself that he was a stupid punk kid trying to impress other gang members by shooting someone in a drive-by. He was deeply ashamed of his cowardice, selfishness, and stupidity.
The dark rumbling clouds outside echoed the emotions of Sandi and Marcos the day they sat face to face in the prison visitation room. Words, grief, anger, sorrow, regret bounced around the room for hours and ended when Marcos laid his upturned arms on the cracked wooden picnic table between them.
"Tell me more. Tell me all the pain. Tell me all your anger. Please put them in my hands where they belong," whispered Marcos. He moved his hands to his shoulders and said, "because all your pain belongs to me. I am the guilty one."
Sandi wept. I saw the tense muscles in along her jaw relax and eventually transform into a faint smile.
She replied, "I don't know what life will be like, or what it will feel like to give up the guilt. But I will work on it. And I forgive you."
What we learn from Sandi and Marcos is that the burden of guilt belongs to the one responsible for the offense. When that happens, the person harmed no longer bears that burden. And when the person injured forgives the guilty both experience freedom from the weight of that sin. Isn’t that exactly what Christ did for us, his Church? He took our sin to the cross, then forgave us. Now we have the freedom to live a resurrected life free from sin and guilt.
Marcos took the weight that belonged to him. The millstone of guilt transferred to its rightful owner. And yet, the miracle of forgiveness made the wretched adornment light as a feather. As we walked away from that meeting, I watched Sandi skip to the door.
Suffering wants to demand an accounting. But, we are not designed to carry great burdens. Who needs to say, "Place the pain on me, where it belongs." And who needs to say, "I forgive you." When both converge in a sacred moment, they will fulfill what the reckoning demands.
"Then Jesus said, 'Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.'" Matt. 11:28-30