“I’ll never be your beast of burden, my back is broad but it’s hurting”
A classic line from a classic Rolling Stones track. Most people catch it when they see it or hear it, and many started singing it when they see read the quote. I know I did. Whether you like the Stones or not, you have to admit their musical impact is iconic. Good or bad, their music casts a large shadow on our contemporary scene, and their lyrical content has followed the same path. I could mention a simple term like “sympathy for the devil”, and emotion is solicited. Prior to the 1960’s, it would mean very little. It is amazing how music can have so much impact on individual lives, as well as carve out a cultural lexicon that outlives many moments amidst its contextual history.
Ironically, the music that impacts us can be so subjective that the meaning with which it was penned often is lost in the meaning it solicited within the hearer. “Beast of Burden” is one such example. I, among many, many other music fans out there in the land of rock ‘n’ roll interpreted the song as meaning something completely different than what it actually was intended to say. The framework and delivery gave me the impression that it was a love song. A rock ballad. Something Mick Jagger wanted to say to that special someone in his life. Especially pertaining to a love interest that he wanted to bring to a new and important level of commitment. It sure feels that way as I sit here humming it in my head.
It was for a special someone, just not a love interest.
Surprisingly, the song was written by Keith Richards for his friend and lead singer Mick Jagger. It morphed as the band played around with it to its current form, including some allusion to women, a direction many of their songs go. The song is actually an anthem of friendship, regardless of some of the lines that point towards a love relationship. In fact, the original sentiment is based on Mick having to carry the weight of the band while Keith was struggling through drug addiction, and eventually a trip to rehab. Mick may have seen his role as a friend and band mate to do what he did, continue carrying the burden so his friend could become whole again. It is a picture of two things, unintentionally becoming a burden to the one we are closest to, and being a burden bearer without being recognized as such.
Both happen. We rely on a friend for so much in life. So much so that we forget the pack they have been carrying for us all this time, or the cart in which we ride with them under the yoke. This song shares a common element in all our relationships, but I think especially of marriage and friendship. The structure under which we felt we entered the relationship changes over time, often without our consciously perceiving it. People change, we change, and we usually do not do well with seeing it until a crisis point forces us to refocus our place together. A beast of burden is both incredibly necessary, but it can also seem a nuisance.
All our relationships have beasts of burden, we just do not do well with distinguishing and understanding who they are, nor why they play that role. Or even when they got there. Taking time aside in your life to reflect and refresh, as I have over the past couple of months, can be great in discovering your beasts of burden. They need to be recognized. Where you have become a beast of burden is good to see as well. Those relationships are not always healthy or true to all that God desires of us or the other. But they are present, and we need to take stock of how those important relationships fit into our becoming more as He intended. More than likely, a beast of burden is in place for a good reason, and there is unimaginable value to you being together. But understand what you represent to one another.
“One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” (Proverbs 18:24)
It reminds me of a sentiment shared by Dr. Larry Crabb in his book Shattered Dreams. When you create a list of your closest friends, the ones you truly feel loved by and love for, it tends to be that you love them for what they do. It seems so selfish, but it is so true. Those closest to me in love are all beasts of burden. Nowhere is this more evident than in my married life. I think, and hope I am right, that when my wife and I are really clicking along we understand that we lean heavily on the other, all the while maintaining a strong sense of self. But that balance of understanding is difficult to track, and unless crisis exposes that the scales are off, we will not even notice that we are bearing the burden of another continually. At my healthiest, I recognize this is a reciprocal action but also know the other is lovingly doing so, and it shows. And I realize that I can be the same to them in turn. At the low points though, the list can be heartbreaking. Because you know they are bearing far more than you are able to give in return. But an exchange of goods and services is not the point of the song, nor of love in general.
Love keeps no record, it just knows that sometimes we are bearing, and sometimes we need to take a load off. True love acknowledges both.