Some of the burdens being carried by the people around us are obvious to the eye. We can see people who are literally carrying one too many bags of groceries. We can tell if a car is overloaded or if the stroller and the diaper bag are perilously close to coming apart. I hope that when we see those things we all step forward and help carry the load.
The tougher one, however, is the burden that can’t be seen. Some of these hidden burdens are just the daily cost of living. They can be a function of not getting enough sleep the night before, having too many things on the to-do list, or just getting up on the wrong side of the bed. Others are more intense — the death of a loved one, the end of a relationship, serious financial strain, fractured community, mental illness, or any number of other things. Each one is its own particular kind of burden and its own particular kind of pain.
Most of the time we don’t know those burdens are there and, even when we do, we don’t know how to respond. We all agree that we want to bear each other’s burdens but we’re not really sure how. The conversation about how we find out about the burdens others are carrying is a different one but it starts with listening. The question about what to do once we know is a different challenge.
With a physical thing bearing another’s burden actually alleviates it. Taking that extra grocery bag means that the burden is literally and immediately lighter. The burdens of the heart aren’t so simple. As much as I might like to I can’t reach into someone and ease the pain of loss. If only! But taking away the burden may not be what it is primarily about. It might, instead, be about reminding each other that none of us are alone in our burdens. It might be about reminding each other that we are not alone in our losses and hurts.
It might be that the best way to bear each other’s burdens is to show up and not leave. Hold each other’s hand and be a physical reminder that we aren’t carrying these things alone. The burden of loss or betrayal or illness will not go away that easily. They’re still going to hurt. But somehow we can strengthen each other so the carrying of that burden is just a little more manageable.
None of that is new or revolutionary. You probably know that already. The next challenge is choosing to share a burden with those who haven’t “earned it”. The ones with whom we disagree passionately. The ones who’ve made bad choices. The ones who’ve been the cause of some of our burdens.
We are called to bear each other’s burdens and we are all “each other”.