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How do we relate to people that are burdened? How do we relate to our own burdens that weigh us down? Society is often unfriendly and blaming toward people who are caught up in burdensome realities. Too often we approach our own and the burdens of others 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 is possible to safely share burdens, learn from them and grow through them.
Bearing one another's burdens is too often replaced by blaming one another for our burdens. Blame can make us very self-righteous and insensitive to those whose burden is great. Blame means we don't have to do anything about it. We can just stew about it and find fault with another person's circumstances. Rather than reach out, blame encourages us to keep our distance from those who are burdened. The blame game prevents us from taking responsibility for our attitudes that may be a burden to us and to others.
We certainly need to find ways to share burdens across all kinds of barriers we and others create. Our self-inflicted negative attitudes toward people different from ourselves only increase barriers. Some areas where stereotypes do great harm include: racism, homelessness relating to teens, adults and families, sexual orientation, the elderly, the churched and unchurched, people with brain disorders, substance abuse, and any stereotype we struggle with individually that burdens us in harmful and hurtful ways. Helpful to all of us in our struggles with our attitudes, barriers and stereotyping is the fact that all people are children of God.
Burdens certainly can be negative. But our burdens and the burdens of others can also bring growth in understanding and compassion. Frequently we learn important lessons for living through burdensome realities. By excluding the burdened from our life experiences we deprive ourselves from a more complete understanding of humankind.
Some of our best teachers are people who have invited us into the realities of what burdens them. They become resources for our own growth in compassion, understanding and love. Because of their pain, they become a gift to us in giving us greater insight into meaningful life. We ourselves can be resources to others as we invite them into our painful experiences. Too often we privatize and isolate ourselves and others, and journey through our burdens alone. How tragic it is when we choose 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. If only we could get caught up in seeing the opportunities for growth that can be found in our burdens.
In a society so prone to teach impatience for those with burdens, 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. How are we setting an example of understanding for our children?
Faith invites us into the honest sharing of our burdens. As Galations 6:02 says: "Bear one another's burdens and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ." Churches need to be safe places to be in pain. They need to be places 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 take responsibility for our attitudes and find ways to "bear one another's burdens" that dignify and heal. In doing so we can better live with and go through one another's burdens.
Pastor Larry Rorem has served as pastor of Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church for 11 1/2 years. He is currently chairman of the Glory Hole board of directors. He is also involved with issues related to brain disorders and people who are on the "margin" of society.