51: The Fine Art of Bearing
Paul says that we are to “bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” Galatians 6:2 What does it mean to bear someone’s burden?
After two newsletters about being real, open, and vulnerable about our needs, how do we respond to someone who shares their struggles and burdens with us? There doesn’t seem to be one clear response or approach.
For the balance of this missive, I hope to explore some possible solutions from scripture and my own experience. I have seen several examples of burden-bearing that we should avoid, and some that we can embrace. It is a fine art to find a biblical balance for bearing one another’s burdens.
One pitfall is to do nothing. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, this approach is exemplified by the priest and the Levite who saw the man lying wounded along the road, turned a blind eye, and walked on the other side of the road. Jesus condemned this tactic.
Another ditch to avoid is to try and fix the afflicted person. Job’s friends sat at His side for several days before they engaged in giving advice. This maneuver was also wrong.
We do have some positive examples, and one is the good Samaritan, who gave us an example of how to love our neighbor.
“But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.” Luke 10:33-35
Bearing burdens emanates from the heart. The good Samaritan was moved with compassion, and then he took practical steps to alleviate the suffering.
“Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” Romans 12:15
Before we can bear a brother’s burden we need to taste their pain and understand some of their grief. Any ensuing actions should be birthed in a heart that feels their pain.
Jesus “was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.” Isaiah 53:3
Jesus felt people’s pain, He grieved with them. He responded with compassion when he came to the tomb of Lazarus. “Jesus wept.” John 11:35. He felt their grief and then he raised Lazarus from the dead.
When we learn of a burden, the first thing to do is pray. This may not be all that we end up doing, but it should always be the first thing that we do. Ultimately Jesus is the best burden bearer, and like the four friends who lowered their companion through the roof to bring him to Jesus, we can always draw near to God and pray.
“Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” James 5:16
I am learning that after I pray, and look for practical means to help, I can also communicate. When I am in a valley, and have reached out for help and support, I usually do not need the cavalry to ride in on their white chargers and come to my rescue.
Sometimes a simple text or email saying that I am being thought about and prayed for, is all I need. It is always nice to know I am not alone. This is real life in the body of Christ.
“If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” 1 Corinthians 12:26
When you don’t know how to help, ask the person who is suffering what they need. As a parent of a Down syndrome son, my wife and I have ongoing needs for help with John’s care. Our needs are not short term. When someone breaks a leg for example, friends and neighbors may rally around and make meals, take turns caring for the children, and pitch in wonderfully for a few weeks until the crisis is past.
Helping someone bear a long term need is different. The best thing to do is sit down with the family or individual and ask what needs they have, pray, and ask God how you can be a help and support without neglecting your own responsibilities. Often long term needs require a team of people to take turns bearing the burden which is too much for one person.
Extend mercy to those who should “know better”. What if the burdens are a result of moral lapses or just plain bad judgement? Should we walk away because they made their bed and now let them sleep in it? This is why it is a fine art. The individual may need to accept the consequences of their actions, but we can still express our sadness and offer to pray that God would lead them. A burden is a burden irregardless of who it came to be.
“We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves.” Romans 15:1
Bear, don’t repair. As a young pastor, when I became aware of a problem, I thought is was my responsibility to step in and fix it. Or like Job’s friends, I would listen and then offer advice. I now know about a thing called respecting boundaries. Before I buckle on my tool belt and barge in, I now ask what their needs are and if they want any help.
Another factor may be that the person has not prayed themselves about their burden. I know this may sound silly, but in one of my personal valleys, I was afraid to share my heart and my fears with anyone, even Jesus. I think that deep down I was afraid I would be like Humpty Dumpty and fall apart or have a breakdown. All of the king’s horses and all of the king’s men wouldn’t have been able to put Steve together again. Then I read this wonderful scripture in the Psalms.
“Cast your burden on the LORD, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved.” Psalms 55:22
When I saw that God promised He would not permit me to “be moved” I gladly poured out my heart with tears, and He met me. I cast my burden onto His lap and that made all the difference.
In every scenario, ultimately God is the great burden bearer.
“Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.” Isaiah 53:3
Even to your old age I am he, and to gray hairs I will carry you. I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save.” Isaiah 46:4
May we all learn the fine art of bearing one another’s burdens and thus fulfill the law of Christ!