How do we relate to people who are burdened? How do we deal with our own burdens? Society is often unfriendly and blaming toward people who are caught up in burdensome realities. Often we view the burdens of others and our own with an attitude of denial. We fail to recognize that a shared burden is a lighter burden. When we practice understanding, compassion and love, it becomes safe to share burdens, learn from them and grow through them.
Bearing another’s burden is frequently replaced with judgment and blame for those who are burdened. It can make us self-righteous and insensitive toward those whose burdens are heavy. Blame relieves us of caring and encourages us to simply find fault with another person’s circumstances. Rather than reach out, we keep our distance from those who are burdened. The blame game prevents us from taking responsibility for our attitudes and action, and prevents healing.
We all have burdens, some more than others. Finding ways to share burdens across the barriers we and others create opens us to understanding, compassion and love. Our self-inflicted negative attitudes toward people with burdens prevents much needed caring. A few areas where blame can replace bearing one another’s burdens include: racism, homelessness, poverty, wealth, sexual orientation, political affiliation, substance abuse, aging, brain disorders, imprisonment, religion, immigration, illness and any stereotype that burdens us individually. Helpful to all of us in our struggles with our attitudes, barriers and stereotyping is God’s unconditional love for all people.
We learn important lessons for living through our burdensome realities and those faced by others. They bring us growth and understanding. By excluding the burdened from our life experiences we deprive ourselves of a more complete understanding of humankind.
Some of our best teachers are people who have invited us into the realities of their burdens. They are resources for our own growth in compassion, understanding and love. Because of their pain, they become a gift that gives us greater insight into meaningful life. We ourselves can be resources to others as we invite them into our painful experiences. We have a tendency to privatize and isolate ourselves and others, and journey through our burdens alone. How tragic it is when we choose to deprive ourselves of opportunities for growth. It is so easy to get caught up in blaming and building barriers which only diminish us and others, rather than seeing the opportunities for growth burdens provide.
In a society where impatience for those with burdens often prevails, it is vital that we be examples of love, compassion and understanding. In particular, our children need us to teach them how important it is to take responsibility for one another rather than to blame one another. Our challenge is to set an example of understanding for our children.
Faith invites us into honest sharing of our burdens. As Galatians 6:2 says: “Bear one another’s burdens and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” Faith communities need to be safe places for those in pain and a place of pro-active caring. Burdens are a reality of life. Some burdens may seem more acceptable than others, but our discomfort with another person’s burdens should not cause us to withdraw.
May we all learn to live with and seek to “bear one another’s burdens” with dignity and healing. In doing so we can better face and live with one another’s burdens.
• Rorem is a retired Evangelical Lutheran Church in America pastor living in Juneau.