Updated: May 8
Working in mental health, one of the areas I ask client’s about is their social support network: Who are your people? How connected do you feel to them? What do they know about your struggles?
There’ve been many times I get a quiet response, “I haven’t talked to them about this. I don’t want to be a burden.”
Whether they’re battling depression, anxiety or situational stressors, they name the most important people in their life, yet something prevents them from reaching out for support. They’re afraid of vulnerability, they’re afraid of rejection and they’re afraid to be the subject of gossip.
The reasons behind the fear is a whole other discussion, but the questions I found myself reflecting on are, how are we doing as a church in caring for others, and do we really think the struggles of others are a burden to us?
If we’re honest, I think we can answer, yes, sometimes they are.
Battles with addictions, depression, or anxiety can be hard and long. We can grow weary of picking others up, particularly when we find ourselves near the end of our own rope trying to manage our own lives.
Navigating our own day to day can be a juggling trick on its own, when someone near to us also has a need, I think we worry that one more ball in the air will cause us to drop them all. There’s a sigh in our hearts when yet another thing is added on the to-do list, crowding the already limited time and space.
Other times tragedy hits and the sheer amount of needs feels like an insurmountable snow hill in a blizzard. We feel the pressure to try and hold everyone up like Louisa in the Disney movie Encanto, given all the heavy things the others in her family can’t shoulder.
While carrying additional responsibility is costly, it’s also an opportunity for us to walk in faithful obedience as we care for and love our church families. It’s a call for us to pause and consider the sacrifice of our time, energy and resources, as well as the teachings in scripture to “one-another” those in our local communities.
“Love one another” (John 13:35)
“Clothe yourselves with humility toward one another” (1 Pet 5:5)
“Carry each other’s burdens” (Gal 6:2)
“Encourage one another” (1 Thess 5:11)
“Pray for each other” (James 5:16)
But why is it so hard?
Because you can’t do it on your own.
In so many ways we are influenced to believe we should be able to handle life on our own. Mothers of young children hear, “I did it, so you should too,” friends who work and have busy lives seem to say you should be able to do more. The cultural message tells us to work hard for success and don’t depend on others to do so.
So we follow, striving to do it all.
If we consider what godly counsel could be for the one who is struggling, one piece would likely be to lay their burdens at the feet of Jesus, reminding them of his call to “come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matt 11:28) and to “cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you” (Ps 55:22).
What happens when we hear that same counsel for ourselves?
Dependence on the Lord as we care for those around us is the only way we can persevere, not only for the moment, but always. The more we believe we can make it on our own, the greater appetite we are supplying our pride. When we’re at the end of our rope, feeling utterly defeated, is where God reminds us we weren’t hanging on with our own strength in the first place.
You also need people behind and beside you.
Compassion fatigue is a thing.
As you support others in their suffering, you’re going to need people around you to encourage and strengthen you.
When we left home to serve in Africa we needed at least 60 names of people who would be committed to praying for us and our ministry. Though you may be serving in a lay capacity, it’s a beautiful thing to develop a small group who supports each other as we care for others.
Isn’t that what the church is for?!
It’s the cord of three strands that cannot be easily broken (Ecc 4:12), the hands that held up Moses’ when he was too tired (Ex 17:12), and the refreshed spirit in the presence of friends (1 Cor 16:17-18). We’re a body, joined together in Christ to accomplish the purposes of the Father, for his glory and the good of others.
You’ll Discover Longsuffering
Love is never easy. It’s not visible without a cost. In order to carry each other’s burdens, we must consider our own readiness for longsuffering.
Longsuffering is defined as not losing heart and persevering patiently in troubles. It’s most often translated in scripture as patience. We’re told in Gal 5:22, the fruit of the Spirit includes patience [longsuffering] and are directed as God’s people to put on new clothes which includes patience [longsuffering].
The idea of patiently persevering with others through trials was not lost in scripture. The early church supplied each others’ physical needs and received teaching front he apostles for their encouragement and instruction. We have these encouragements to remind and encourage us in this pursuit as proclaimers of his kingdom.
Tramping over a foot and a half of snow across the lake in snowshoes, there’s an incredibly disconcerting sound as the noise of your footsteps echoes beneath you. It’s unsettling because the sound points to the presence of water beneath the snow and ice -the potential danger if our foundation isn’t solid.
We need our feet firmly planted in Christ, actively growing in spiritual maturity as we seek to support others in need. There can be dangers of burnout and pride. Healthy boundaries will be important. But in it all, let’s be curious about ourselves, our perceptions of others in their struggles and of our willingness to suffer alongside them.
Because the noise of each snowshoe pressing into the snow echoes, reminding us of the glory of God going out with each faithful step of obedience. For “our light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Cor 4:17).
Perhaps it’s a call to confess our selfish tendencies and repent of ways we put ourselves before others. Maybe it’s time to look for opportunities to do some research to understand what our loved one is going through. Or it’s time to prayerfully consider those around us and whether or not they need a friend.
How have you perceived people to be a burden? What can you do to grow in helping others?