I lived two glorious years in Louisville, Kentucky when Lance was in seminary. I use glorious lightly. Okay, sarcastically. There were high moments and irreplaceable people, but my marriage, health, and finances were otherwise poo-poo. Those years were struggling years and, for a season, miserable at times. It was when my health went south with chronic migraines that were initially hard to even diagnose, much less treat, that I learned that there is an attribute that many Christians are lacking and that is bearing each others burdens.
Suffering and enduring with someone else is a very honorable characteristic but very rarely do you think of someone, “Hey, they sure are long-suffering today.” Fruits of the spirit get thrown out in compliments often, but I don’t know if I’ve ever heard of a Christian being referred to as someone who bears other’s burdens well.
When I first got “sick” with migraines, I had to quit my job. I couldn’t drive a car for a while because of the dizziness and there were weeks where I didn’t even go outside. It was incredibly depressing and suffocating. I had migraines daily for 8 weeks and then battled them on and off with good and bad days for the whole first year. When it began I received cards here and there, visits, prayers, and many “How are yous”. Then as time progressed but what was going on with me didn’t, people sort of dropped off in their presence with me. I know that people still loved me…still cared, and to be fair, they probably didn’t know what to do anymore. Ultimately, I don’t think people knew how bear one another’s burdens for a season. That isn’t a judgement, but rather something most of us are lacking, including me. Knowing how to be present for the long haul in someone’s strife is difficult.
If you haven’t had the opportunity to walk with someone through something enduring, you will. It’s coming. It is so simple to bring a meal to a friend when they have a baby or to clean a friend’s house when their parent passes. Not only is it simple, it’s almost innate to do those things for people we love. We WANT to be there for our friends and loved ones. It’s natural. However, what is not inherently in our nature, if left to ourselves, is enduring and bearing suffering with one another. Why? Because immediate sympathy is a fast love response, but long suffering requires discipline. When all of the emotions of sadness and shock of the initial onset of a burden wears off in to weeks, months and so on, then you aren’t acting on raw love and emotion. It becomes inconvenient. It can become a burden on your own time and schedule. It starts taking from YOU. You can even start to become frustrated with the person who is struggling.
“Take my advice!”
“We’ve had this conversation a million times.”
“Get over it!”
“They bring me down and it’s so depressing talking to them.”
“You chose to marry them!”
“Make better choices!”
“Go get help!”
“Lots of people go through this sooooo….”
Nothing will show you how highly you view yourself or how much of a servant you are quite like walking alongside of someone through something ugly.
A woman in your church becomes suddenly widowed. Everyone organizes a meal delivery schedule for the first few weeks. People help her around the house or with her kids. People constantly express concern for her and her family. But then, life goes on. Well…your life goes on.
After all, what are you supposed to do? You brought meals on and off for threes weeks and that is so hard on your time and maybe finances. What are you supposed to do? Just bring meals open-endedly?
If that’s what it takes. Maybe if that what she needs. Three weeks is comforting. Three weeks is helpful. Three weeks is supportive, but it’s not enduring. It would be great if no burden we bore outlasted a few weeks of meals and a handful of calls and prayers, but that’s not real life. Furthermore, that isn’t being the church if we can’t go beyond that.
Life is messy. We all ebb and flow between good seasons and hard times and for us all, we all have a few issues we seem to battle for a lifetime: a difficult marriage, illness, finances, un-forgiveness, anxiety, family relationships, infertility, anger and loneliness.
We will all survive deaths of loved ones and unexpected-ed personal tragedies: your husband loses his job and you lose everything, miscarriages, diagnosis’s, accidents, etc. With a world like this, the problem is, we are all at some point going to be required to endure and not just for ourselves, but to help others endure also. If you are honest with yourself, you may have very well floundered in bearing a burden with someone long term. You may not even have realized that you missed the opportunity.
Suffering, struggle and strife is not fun to be a part of in any way, regardless of whether it’s your suffering or someone else’s, but bearing with each other is an important sanctifying experience for both parties.
A sweet mother who recently passed away of cancer wrote about it like this:
In our efforts to terminate suffering, too often we can be forced to terminate the sufferer when were meant to liberate the aloneness of the sufferer, by choosing to participate in the suffering….choosing to stand with the suffering, stay with the suffering, let the suffering be shaped into a meaning that transcends the suffering. The staggering truth is: Suffering is never a meaningless waste of your life, but a meaningful way through your life.
Suffering is a call to come, to show up, to be there. Suffering can be a gift because it’s a call for presence; it’s a call for us to be present.
If suffering is about bearing under, suffering is a call for us all to be a community to stand together and carrying the weight of bearing under, only to find that we are all being carried by a Greater Love.
Struggling and suffering alongside of each other is about being like Jesus. It should be the mark of the church which means, bearing burdens isn’t just something for you and your best friend. It’s for people you share church with. Not often do other’s problems effect us and rarely do we take them on as our own and let them “inconvenience” our lives, but bearing isn’t easy, it isn’t quick, but it’s required of us and needed from us. Disciplines require Christ reliance and never come easy, but they deliver bountifully. As a believer, you are equipped to navigate through carrying each other burdens. Messiness is guaranteed but you are called to and one day, you will need someone to help carry yours.
So in the end, the question is not if you need to bear a burden. The question is, will you recognize when it’s needed, how will you bear it, and will you have the faithful discipline to endure.
“Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” Galations 6:2″
Photo Credit: Joel Ham Photography