One route home from my office on 42nd Street in midtown Manhattan takes me up Fifth Avenue, past Rockefeller Center, where I pass the statue of Atlas. Curious to know more about what it represents, I did some research and found that the ancient Greek Titan Atlas is carrying an extraordinarily heavy weight on his shoulders as punishment for waging war against Zeus. This was harsh punishment; since the Titans were immortal in Greek mythology, his punishment was meant to last forever!
Apparently there is disagreement as to what this weight was. One version says he’s holding the world on his shoulders.
Hmmm… That sounds familiar.
Why is it that we so often feel weighed down by daily tasks and responsibilities? Is it because we believe we are in control, and that we, in some measure, bear responsibility for making things happen?
Many people throughout the world work under the pressure of unforgiving deadlines, juggling multiple responsibilities simultaneously. Continually at the beck and call of our electronic devices, we pride ourselves in multitasking our way through the day – and, in some cases, through the night, as well. And all the while, we may feel increasingly incapable of emerging victorious from this battle.
Instead of making progress, we often feel we’re falling further and further behind. Rather than becoming lighter, the burden seems to grow heavier. And you feel like a modern-day Atlas, sentenced to carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders throughout eternity. Christian Science explains that this feeling of being burdened stems from a false sense of responsibility and the belief that we are mere mortals struggling alone in a perplexing material universe.
As Mary Baker Eddy, who discovered Christian Science, wrote: “Mortals are egotists. They believe themselves to be independent workers, personal authors, and even privileged originators of something which Deity would not or could not create” (“Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” p. 263).
So then who is really in charge? Christ Jesus provided the answer when he said, “I can of mine own self do nothing.... I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me” (John 5:30). “The Message,” by Eugene H. Peterson, interprets the first part of that passage in this way: “I can’t do a solitary thing on my own: I listen, then I decide.” So if we’re to follow Jesus’ guidance, we need to strive to emulate him in our everyday lives.
When I feel as if I’m crumbling under the burden of personal responsibility, I remind myself who is in control. That alone often begins to relieve the pressure. Then I pause in prayer to hear what divine intelligence has to say.
Of course, this requires courage – and more than a little humility – especially during those glorious moments when tasks have been completed successfully and I may be tempted to take personal pride in what “I” have accomplished. That’s when I find it’s most important to return to acknowledging who’s in control.
Giving the responsibility – and the credit – to a power greater than my own releases me from feeling I am laboring on my own. Then I no longer feel like Atlas – sentenced to carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders. The punishment is lifted, and I am free.