By Kathryn Lay What I learned about bearing one another’s burdens
There are movements that talk about smiling at strangers, and the benefits of passing it on. Others talk about passing along random acts of kindness. Christ taught us to serve one another. Many have done this in my life, and I hope to pass it on and on and on.
Some of the dictionary definitions for “burdens” include “to weigh down; oppress; to load or overload.”
The psalmist David wrote: “Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens” (Ps. 68:19).
And the apostle Paul counseled the believers in Galatia, “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2).
The word “law” is a strong word. We are told it fulfills Christ’s law to carry each other’s burdens.
How can we carry someone else’s burden? carry their load? Does it mean we have to live the same experience with them?
When I had a hysterectomy because of a tumorous mass, learned that it was cancer and that it had begun to spread, my husband, daughter, and I felt as if the world had completely fallen in on us. Would I die? Would I survive? How difficult would the chemotherapy be? Would I be able to take care of myself, of my family, of the normal and everyday things I did? If not, what would we do? Our minds swirled with frightening possibilities and questions.
The day my husband brought me home from the hospital, we saw that someone had mowed our lawn. We never learned who, but it was the beginning of moments when our burdens were lifted.
For two weeks meals were brought in abundance. After every chemo session—every three weeks for four months—people brought us food for the several days I was in pain.
One woman from church I barely knew brought us a meal one evening. She asked if I needed help the next day. I told her that my husband and daughter would be at school and that I would probably spend most of the day sleeping off the pain medication. I woke up the next day a little before noon. I was hungry, but I felt too poorly to get up and cook. I had been awake only a few minutes when the doorbell rang.
It was the woman who had brought dinner the night before. “I was at church praying, and I thought you could use this.” She held out a bag. Inside were a sandwich and a milk shake. She gave me a hug and left.
If she had come a little earlier, I would still have been sleeping. A little later I might have made myself get up and try to cook. But she followed God’s leading and blessed me in a way that might have seemed small to her, but was huge in my eyes.
I look back on other times that we were blessed with bills paid when my husband was laid off work. One weekend several men came and helped my husband repair our fallen-down fence.
Jesus told an unforgettable story about a Samaritan and an injured man he found on the road. “He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him” (Luke 10:34).
This story of a real moment, or perhaps just a story to get across a point, remains an important lesson showing God’s desire that we help others when they are burdened, when their load is overwhelming. If this man could do so much to help a stranger, how much more can we do for friends, family, even strangers?
By bearing my burdens, others have lightened them and obeyed God’s command to help others. As they have done for me, I hope to do for others, and pass on what was given to me and my family: the hope, the feelings of being loved, and the comfort we needed. Already I see that those I have been able to help have helped others, and I see these moments being passed on in a receiving and giving and receiving pattern.
How can we successfully bear each other’s burdens?
Paul wrote, “He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers” (2 Cor. 1:10, 11).
Before, during, and after my surgery I knew there were lots of people praying for me. Friends from church, online friends and their churches, family members. During months of chemotherapy people were always stopping me at church or calling to let me know they were praying for me.
My prayer life tended to be pretty selfish before that. I prayed for my own needs, for my family’s needs, but not as much for others. Now I feel a craving to know about the health and the burdens of those around me, to add them to my daily prayer list. I feel a sense of urgency to pray for them, knowing that as God listened to their prayers for me, He will also listen to my prayers for others.
The first few weeks after my hysterectomy, I spent much of my time resting at home recovering from the surgery and preparing for chemo. I spent a lot of time fearing my future, and wondering if I had one. What helped me more than anything were the friends who came to see me, or called and listened to my fears and my questions.
I remember one friend who has dealt with a muscle disease all her life, one that has gotten worse in recent years. To me she was always a giant of a faith-filled woman. I always admired her strength in her situation and how she constantly blessed others with her talent in teaching drama to children.
One afternoon we spent a long time on the phone, and I told her my fears. But it wasn’t until she admitted that she was sometimes angry at God for not healing her that I was finally able to open up about my own anger issues without being afraid to say them out loud. She was human like me. She trusted God, but she also had moments of doubt and frustration. In our conversation that day my own faith was strengthened because I saw her strength and her humanness in her situation. Even though she sometimes struggled to understand God’s plan, she still loved and obeyed Him.
Recently a dear friend learned she had breast cancer. She was one of those who stopped me every week at church and asked how I was doing during chemo, hugged me, and told me how well I looked. In the past couple months I’ve been able to listen to her fears as she went through surgery and now chemo. I’ve learned that it’s important to be honest, both in my own emotions and in the many stories of how God ministered to me miraculously through others then and now. Then I could do the same for her.
Sometimes it’s easy to wait for a bolt of lightning to hit when we feel a nudging to help another, or wait and let others do something. That had been me before I learned the importance of sharing burdens. Now I try to act quickly rather than wait for someone to ask. I needed a lot of things when I was sick, things I wanted; but I found it difficult to ask for them. I learned, though, that as a receiver I have to be honest; and as a giver I have to be perceptive.
When I hear of a friend or someone in church who is going through a difficult time, I try to find out as quickly as I can the best way I can help. Cook a meal? Visit? Call?
I pray for creativity in helping to bear their burdens. So many people showed God’s love to us with great creativity and sensitivity. One family kept our daughter overnight so that my husband and I could get away to a romantic spot and be a couple again. When we returned, someone else, knowing about my love for flowers, had tended to my dying garden and planted dozens of bright, colorful pansies. A friend slipped an envelope into my hand and told me to go buy myself some new clothes that made me feel nice. A group of friends got together and raised money for a wig and scarves for when I lost my hair. Someone heard that my body temperature changed while I was on chemo, that I was constantly cold, and they knitted me a beautiful throw that matched my living room.
“God is not unjust,” it is recorded in Hebrews, “he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them” (Heb. 6:10). I can’t help believing that God smiles every time our burdens are eased by the help of another; and again when we do the same for someone else.
My prayers now include insights and opportunities to bear the burdens of others. I just learned about a missionary family coming home on leave in a couple weeks. I have a feeling they would love a night out alone. It’s time to do some babysitting.
Kathryn Lay writes from Arlington, Texas. This article was published June 9, 2011.