My college experience included a battle against significant health challenges and a frantic search for answers to what was wrong. After one appointment on a week where my sickness soared to a new level, I returned to my apartment, shaken by the suggestion that I likely had Lyme disease.
As I walked in the door to pack my bags for a visit with another doctor back in my hometown, my roommate immediately read my face and pulled me into a hug where I could ugly cry in her arms. It was an intense moment I doubt either of us will ever forget. I cannot put into words the difference it made to just let my fears fall out of my lips rather than face my racing thoughts alone. And while the culprit didn’t turn out to be Lyme disease, an eventual chronic illness diagnosis meant this wouldn’t be the only time I fell apart in front of my roommates throughout my difficult journey.
Though they don’t involve diseases or sobbing roommates, Scripture records many times when hardships were shared between God’s people. When Paul was downcast, God sent Titus to comfort him. When persecution scattered the church and men began spreading the gospel in Antioch, the church at Jerusalem sent Barnabas to disciple and exhort them. When the Thessalonians were afflicted, Paul sent Timothy to strengthen and encourage their faith.
These examples made me wonder: How many times have I missed God’s provision in the form of a person I didn’t want to burden?
How many times have I begged God for comfort, then ignored the very person He sent to comfort me? How many times have I asked God to provide, then refused a friend’s generosity? In today’s increasingly individualistic culture, we’ve forgotten a key to our Christian growth: We’re supposed to be a burden.
Profile of a burden-bearer
Galatians 6:2 tells us to, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” The natural reading of this verse puts us as the subject — the one doing the burden-bearing. But for this to be possible, there must be a recipient — the one who is burdened. Sometimes that recipient will be me; other times it will be you. And by not sharing these burdens, we are literally hindering our brothers and sisters from doing what God is prompting them to do.
I remember sitting in church one Sunday as my pastor invited the congregation to look at the people around us. He asked, “How many burdens in this room are you aware of? If none come to mind, there might be a problem.” His challenge stuck with me. After all, you can’t bear a burden you aren’t aware of.
Bearing someone’s burden can take many forms. It may be emotional support, a listening ear, financial help, mediating a dispute, or completing a task. Sometimes a person’s burden may be urgent, and an “all hands on deck” approach is needed. But often you can help someone by contributing out of your unique giftings, resources and passions. A few examples:
- Give a caregiver a break by sitting with their loved one so they can run errands, go for a walk, or meet a friend for coffee
- Spend time with a friend who recently lost a family member. Sit, listen, cry, comfort, pray. Just your presence will speak volumes.
- Babysit for a young family at church so they can enjoy a kid-free date night
- Help a single mom on a Saturday with anything from dishes and laundry to cleaning out gutters.
Clearly there are many ways to share someone’s load, and you will inevitably be inconvenienced. But as with anything that is God’s idea, there are blessings that come with the sacrifice. To that point, here are a few benefits of burdening one another.
God gets the glory.
God told us that His power is made perfect in our weakness. But how can we boast in our weaknesses when we’re so busy hiding them?
Upon returning from Christmas break my freshman year of college, a friend asked, “Did you have a good week?” I remember saying, “No,” with a laugh, which embarrassingly turned to tears since the week had been one of the toughest of my life. Rather than sharing that with her, I tried to turn away and hide. But it was already too late. That friend became a treasured source of encouragement through one of the hardest stretches of my life.
As I learned to let people in, they saw beyond the “normal” surface of my life into the depth of my circumstances. And one thing was crystal clear: Only Jesus could be carrying me. The self-sufficient image I’d been portraying was a clever cover-up for what I really was — a glory thief. Instead, as we share our weaknesses in a healthy way, God gets the glory that’s been His all along.
Relationships are deepened.
We live in God’s world, which means life goes best for us when we function according to His design. Our Creator built us for connection. It was God who said it is not good that man should be alone, and this applies in the good times and the bad.
Do you know what’s worse than suffering? Suffering alone.
Loneliness adds to pain. I’m willing to argue that most people feel alone in some way. And many buy the lie that everyone else has it more together than they do; I’ve spent my fair share of time crippled by this lie. But as we burden one another, sharing our brokenness and asking for help, we comfort each other by exposing the reality that nobody has it all figured out.
Undoubtedly, the deepest relationships in my life are with the people who have walked with me through suffering — and vice versa. As the body of Christ comes together, we learn to function as a unit, each offering our gifts for the edification of the rest. In this regard, I’d encourage you to “bring in the cavalry,” so to speak; I’ve experienced joy from my peers and wisdom from my elders, empathy from my sisters and strength from my brothers. The church is diverse for a reason.
We are better prepared for the suffering we will face.
Walking through suffering with others is one of the best tools to prepare us for our own suffering. Our understanding of suffering expands, and we get to see the character it produces.
We awkwardly stumble around sympathy, offering our presence and prayers. Gently sharing encouragement and counsel prepares us to preach to ourselves when our own seas are raging. We fight for our faith and wrestle through doubts, but we’re given the opportunity to do those things before the battlefield gets personal. And when it is personal, we have the privilege of being a vessel God uses to prepare our friends to face their own storms as they encourage us through ours.
We are humbled.
If humility is one of our greatest calls as believers, vulnerability is key. Usually it is pride, not humility, that keeps us from asking for help and being a burden. Recognizing our need is just the beginning of seeing ourselves as God sees us.
But beware. Vulnerability can easily get twisted into a victim mentality. If reading this has left you ready to trauma-dump on the next person who walks in the room, you’ve missed the point.
What then is the point? Jesus is the point. He is the source of our strength. Mutual burden-bearing is only helpful when we have our deepest needs met through Christ and realize that people are simply channels of His blessing. As a result, these relationships are meant to be mutually supportive. Don’t only be a taker. Although we will go through seasons when our needs are more prominent, we are to be life-givers even in the midst of our pain.
With all of this in mind, I dare you to be a burden.
Copyright Olivia Feller 2023. All rights reserved.