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Celebrating Everyday Spirituality

Sunflower Seeds

Celebrating Everyday Spirituality

A Word about Wheelbarrows

I was watching the landscapers working at the new house next door. They were planting small trees and shrubs, and were moving soil and rocks. I noticed they were using a wheelbarrow. That got me to thinking: how far back do wheelbarrows go? And how do they work? This reflection is based on my “research.”

First, a definition: a wheelbarrow is a hand-propelled vehicle (usually with one wheel) designed to be pushed by a single person using two handles at the rear. Wheelbarrows distribute weight between the wheel and the operator. Thus, it makes it possible for one person to move heavier loads. The name wheelbarrow comes from the Old English bearwe which meant a device for carrying loads. Sometimes people mistakingly say wheelbarrel but there’s no barrel in the word.

The earliest known wheelbarrows were depicted in murals dating back to the second Century Han Dynasty in China. Artistic drawings of wheelbarrows were found in several emperors’ tombs. In ancient China the wheelbarrow was nicknamed the “wooden ox.” There is no archeological evidence of the wheelbarrow in ancient Greece or Rome.

But the wheelbarrow appeared in Europe in the twelfth Century. It was used in construction work, mining, and farming. Sometimes wheelbarrows have two wheels for greater stability. But a one-wheel wheelbarrow has better maneuverability especially in tight spaces. In the 1970’s the British inventor James Dyson introduced the “ballbarrow,” a molded plastic wheelbarrow with a ball at the end instead of a wheel. The ball makes it easier to maneuver and to use on soft soil. In 1998 the Honda HPE60 electric power-assisted wheelbarrow was introduced. It made it possible to carry much heavier loads.

What do wheelbarrows have to do with spirituality? Wheelbarrows have been around for thousands of years because they are a marvelous invention. They distribute the weight of our loads so we humans can bear them more easily, more gracefully.

In the spiritual life, we all have burdens we are carrying: fear, anxiety, illness, difficult family situations, loneliness, discouragement… What or who helps us to bear our burdens? Friends and family can certainly ease our burdens. Seeking professionals can help too—a doctor, spiritual director, counselor. Prayer and scripture often can make our burdens lighter. Maybe even reading a reflection on wheelbarrows can help!

Ultimately, of course, we hand over our burdens to Jesus. We ask for his wisdom, his love, his strength to bear our burdens with greater faith, trusting in his words: Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light” (Mt. 11:28-30).

For reflection:

Have you had any experience with wheelbarrows?

As a child, did you ever play with a wheelbarrow? (My siblings and I certainly did!)

Who or what helps you to bear the burdens you are currently bearing? How do you help others to bear their burdens?

PS: One of our responders below, Tom, sent in this picture. He calls it “Wheelbarrow by the Cuyahoga.”


I want to wish my American readers a very Happy Fourth of July! May we never take the gift of freedom for granted!

I have three short videos today. The first two are just for fun. The third one is our song for today.

This video is from the annual Hungarian Olympics. This is a fun competitive race called “girls in the wheelbarrow.” (1 min.)

This second video is called “extreme wheelbarrow tricks.” You might want to try some of these at home. (1 min.)


Here is our song for the day. It’s Chris Tomlin’s “Jesus” and is appropriate for this reflection. Jesus is eager and able to help us carry our burdens. I especially like the line: Jesus “carries my healing in his hands.”

Do you have any thoughts about this reflection? I welcome your response below:

22 Responses

  1. Great reflection on wheelbarrow Sr. Melannie!

    My trainer has become somewhat of a life coach and has helped me to see retirement with fresh eyes. She has given my a new perspective on the changes resulting from retirement as I change gears.

    God bless!


  2. Good morning, Sr. Melannie…..Good morning, all!

    For many years I landscaped during the summer ( I would trade my white board marker for a shovel!). On one job we were hauling a whole bunch of dirt and sod from one side of a field to the other, and the wheelbarrow was the vehicle for all this hauling. During one such cross-field haul, a dragonfly alighted on the rim of the wheelbarrow, as if hitching a ride on a particularly hot day, its wings beautifully iridescent. When I got to the other side, it flew off.

    Yes, as William Carlos Williams writes, “So much depends on a red wheelbarrow,” especially if you’re a dragonfly who needs to get to the other side!

    1. John, I loved your story of the hitch hiking dragonfly! I’ve seen pictures of migrating butterflies over the Gulf of Mexico resting on the huge cargo ships. They take a breather on their long flight over the Gulf! And every time I see a string of birds perched on our telephone wires, I imagine they think we humans erected those wires just for them!
      Thanks for writing, John! Melannie

  3. My husband and I just bought our 4 year old grandson a radio flyer wheelbarrow for his birthday 🙂

  4. My son had a broken wheelbarrow next to his dumpster, ready to be picked up. I happened to see this and said, whoa! I took it home and rebuilt it, and brought it back to him. It was so pretty we didn’t want to use it. However, it is back in service with new respect.

    1. Good for you, Pete—giving the broken wheelbarrow new life! I think it’s good when we can help things continue to achieve their purpose through fixing and reusing, rather than consigning them to the trash. Blessed are the repairers!

  5. Lovely reflection! My heartfelt thanks to all those in our lives whom the Lord sends to “wheelbarrow” for us!
    My husband still has his Radio Flyer child’s wheelbarrow from when he was a youth. Now he finds them on eBay and restores them for our grand-nieces and nephews.

  6. Thanks Sister Melannie for the great reflection on wheelbarrow. Quite interesting, we have one and use it often. I so look forward to Monday’s to read your blog. Your videos were great and love that song!
    Everyone have a beautiful week!

  7. Brought back memories of how my grandfather, while tending his lovely roses, would allow me to carry very small pails of soil from the wheelbarrow to each plant. The reward was always a wonderful ride in the empty wheelbarrow down the driveway and back. We had a LONG driveway.

  8. Wheelbarrow`s bring back such fun memories. When our grandchildren were little their grampa loaded them in and raced them around the back yard. I can still hear their laughter! And, of course, when he stopped they shouted, “go again”. I, fortunately, took a video on one occasion. They are now in their twenties and the still bring great joy!

  9. Another Sister and I use our old, rusted wheelbarrow frequently whenever we do yard work. We have no storage for it, so it braves all the varied weather conditions Florida has to offer. We depend on our wheelbarrow to lighten our work. Hopefully, I can do the same for my sisters and others I meet each day. Blessings to you, Melannie!

  10. Simply put you are the wheelbarrow for me. And recently I had a dragonfly hitch a ride on my canoe on a beautiful day. What made it so special is the canoe business took a year or two off and I was so grateful they were back in business. Then the added delight of first sighting of a dragonfly, even though it was spring.
    I think when we remind each other of the wonders in life, as covered in your retreats, gives us strength and helps us to remember good times. And also now, I’ll properly call it a wheelbarrow…who knew?
    Thank you for your beautiful blog and bringing us together.

  11. I live in Canada and in our farming community there is a family with 12 children originally from Ohio. In the event that a younger sibling marries before his/her older sibling, that person gets pushed around the reception hall, in full wedding dress (or tux) in a wheelbarrow!

  12. Growing up and raising our family in the country, a wheelbarrow was just part of everyday life. I never thought of transferring that concept to include those who are (or have been) our wheelbarrows or how we can be wheelbarrows to others. I think I am definitely a wheelbarrow to the inmates I write to on a regular basis. Thank you, Sr. Melannie, for broadening my perspective. I’ll now be thinking of “wheelbarrows” as I go through the day.

  13. Good Monday Morning Sister Melannie,
    This morning brought the cement truck and two wheelbarrows to our front entry. New sidewalk for us and man were those two wheelbarrows busy, full and heavy. All the work paid off and it looks wonderful.
    What timing for your thoughts and reflections today.
    Thank you and Happy and Safe July 4 plus!!!

  14. Dear Melannie,
    Thanks for another trip down memory lane, this time in a wheelbarrow!
    It never dawned on me that the wheelbarrow employs the wonderful principle of leverage to lighten the load, and the wheel to make it mobile.
    Images of my dad and grandfather pushing their wheelbarrows flood back into my mind.
    There is always an easier way to deal with every burden. Spirituality, I guess we need to rely on Jesus to provide the leverage to lighten our burdens.

  15. Thank you again, Sr. Melannie. I love this reflection on such an ordinary, humble piece of equipment! When I first started reading the reflection, I couldn’t imagine where it might go. That journey was good for the brain, too.
    What occurred to me while reading this is that (maybe it is my weak upper body strength) but when I use a wheelbarrow, I really struggle if I overload the wagon or if I don’t balance the load. I usually start off overzealous and overload the wagon. So, it fits with what I have been thinking about lately that I’ve been over-scheduling and over-loading myself and that even with a wheelbarrow, there is only so much we can haul, even with Jesus’s help. Jesus might be trying to tell me, Karen, that doesn’t fit in the wheelbarrow–let it go!
    thanks Sr. Melannie!

  16. I did have fun times with my brother who gave me rides in a wheelbarrow
    (wheelbarrow to us at that time). At times, he turned it sideways to dump me out. However, I did likewise when he was in it.
    I did use one to carry my goods when gardening also. It was the only means to carry my things necessary for my work.☺

  17. Loved your story. My son made me a beautiful wooden wheelbarrow for Mother’s Day. I have some huge caladiums in it with other flowers. It’s just priceless!!!

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Hi and welcome to my blog! I’m Sister Melannie, a Sister of Notre Dame residing in Chardon, Ohio, USA. I’ve been very lucky! I was raised in a loving family on a small farm in northeast Ohio. I also entered the SNDs right after high school. Over the years, my ministries have included high school and college teaching, novice director, congregational leadership, spiritual direction, retreat facilitating, and writing. I hope you enjoy “Sunflower Seeds” and will consider subscribing below. I’d love to have you in our “sunflower community.” Thank you!

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