Maybe it’s because it’s Lent. Maybe it’s because winter has held on longer than usual where I live. Maybe it’s because I more easily see pain around me as I’m getting older. Whatever the reason, when I look around my community and neighborhood right now, I see many heavy burdens.
As Christians, we’re instructed to live in community with our Christian brothers and sisters and share their burdens. Paul writes that we are to “encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all”(1 Thessalonians 5:14) and “bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2).
Despite the clear commands to care for our Christian family, what it looks like to obey those commands concretely is intimidating. I’ve been convicted by the command to bear the burdens of those I love in this season of life, and here are five ways I’m trying to do that.
I’m listening to others’ stories. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote that the first duty Christians owe one another is to listen to one another:
“It is God’s love for us that He not only gives us His Word but also lends us His ear. So it is His work that we do for our brother when we learn to listen to him. Christians, especially ministers, so often think they must always contribute something when they are in the company of others, that this is the one service they have to render. They forget that listening can be a greater service than speaking.”
This frees us to move towards others in love without fear. We don’t need to plan what we’re going to say and fear what will happen if our words don’t come. Instead, we can simply hear the pain and hardship, bearing the weight of their story without trying to tidy it up and make it right.
I’m weeping and lamenting. Along with listening to our friends, we can also weep and lament alongside them. In the book of Job, we see Job’s friends coming to him, tearing their clothes and lamenting. Though his friends share some bad theology later on in the book, they begin in the right place. As we move toward the burdened, we do not need to have answers. We can simply cry alongside those who are grieving and grapple with the mystery of God’s sovereignty and the suffering.
I’m creating a place of belonging. In high school, my parents hosted a weekly Ultimate Frisbee night for me and my friends. Unbeknownst to me, a friend who attended had a father dying of cancer. Months later his father passed away, and at his funeral my friend’s mom mentioned that the Ultimate Frisbee evenings were a place her son could come and simply enjoy being with friends, resting from the grief at home.
Sometimes the best way to bear a burden is to create a place where people can take shelter in the midst of the storm. We can serve those in our community by creating places in our homes where they can rest and laugh with joy even though the world is dark.
I’m showing up and offering help. I can’t change the story of the foster kids whom I help with homework, but I can help them with multiplication and division problems. I can’t reverse a shattering cancer diagnosis, but I can do my friend’s laundry during a crazy week of hospital visits and tests.
Kara Tippetts put it this way: “Showing up for another says, ‘I see you. Your pain is known, and though I cannot make it better, I’m here and that’s what matters.'”
Through coming alongside those who are burdened and helping them in practical ways, we bear witness to our Savior who saw our pain and left heaven to take on flesh and make the world right through His death and resurrection.
I’m in the trenches of figuring out how to bear the burdens and I’m continually reminded of my shortcomings in this work. I’ve said the awkward thing when I should have kept my mouth shut. I’ve acted out of selfishness and pride. Yet the Lord in His faithfulness uses the most broken of efforts.
My pastor recently reminded my church that the commandment to bear another’s burdens (Gal. 6:2) implies that we will assume the weight of another’s burden. One person will walk away lighter, the other person will walk away heavier. I can easily burn out and grow depressed, overwhelmed by the darkness and pain of this world. Prayer, time with my Christian community, singing songs of faith and Bible reading are vital to sustain the work of burden bearing.
Look for those in your community with burdens and move toward them. Listen to them. Weep with them. Provide them a safe space and serve them. Show them Jesus, and realize your own need for Him along the way.