A New Spin on “Bear One Another’s Burdens”

Galatians 6:2 Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.

I’m sure there have been times in your life that you sat back for a moment and thought, “This just can’t be happening! The chances of this happening make this so unlikely.”  That’s what both of us felt when a dear friend of mine called two days ago and told me he has a cancerous mass on his kidney.  He says, “Aaron, what are the chances that this could happen right now?  I would have been happy to take Linda’s cancer for her if I could . . . I guess I’ve just taken ‘bear one another’s burdens’ up a whole new level.”  It’s either that or over the top sympathy pains 🙂

This idea of bearing one another’s burdens has been on my mind a lot in the past two months.  Why?  Because, thankfully, a lot of people are bearing our burden with us.  And yet, in the midst of others carrying our burden, we’ve been struck in a number of ways.

We most often minister to others in the manner in which we would desire others to minister to us.

I suppose that may seem somewhat obvious, and yet I don’t think most of us think about this truth in the midst of someone’s burden.  Some may want to be called regularly and others may want to be left alone.  Some may desire a long meaningful phone call and others a brief text.  Some may want to be invited over for a dinner and others just want a gift card.  We all go through struggles differently and it’s important that we consider how the burdened friend desires to be ministered to.  I’m so thankful for the many in our life that have sincerely and effectively inquired to what we need and have desired and successfully lifted our burden.  What a delight and encouragement!

Simple and/or brief statements are best.

I recall when Linda had a miscarriage a number of years ago.  It was not until that point that we realized how many people around us had a similar challenge.  Our journey with cancer has been similar.  As soon as we became aware of Linda’s cancer, we were made aware of so many others around us having a similar journey.  What has struck me as odd and unhelpful is the apparent need of others to share their stories with us.  Telling us about how a loved one died from cancer is not helpful.  Telling us that your loved one had the same type of tumor and that it ended up being benign is equally unhelpful.

I would imagine these stories are told out of a genuine desire to connect, establish credibility (ie. I really do know what you are going through), and show sympathy; and for that, I appreciate the attempt.  But, think twice before sharing your stories with someone already burdened in the midst of their own.

What not to say:
  • Don’t tell them about how your family or friend (or friend’s uncle’s cousin’s second aunt) died from cancer.  It seems obvious, but this is discouraging.
  • Don’t tell them about how your loved one sailed through chemo and radiation.  This can present false hope.
  • Don’t ask them what percentages they have for recovery.  Basically, your asking them how likely they are to die.  Once again, this is not helpful.
  • Don’t always look at them with eyes of pity. Once you’ve acknowledged you’re there for them and that you care, treat them normal.
Example of a simple statement

So then, you may ask, what is a simple and brief statement that may be encouraging?  Laura Story, in her book concerning her husband’s brain tumor, said the most meaningful three words told to her were not “I love you” or “I’m praying for you” but “here’s a latte.”  They knew her and knew what she needed and met that need.  I would have asked for chocolate not a latte, but that is missing the point . . . and since those three words will likely miss the mark a majority of the time, here’s a simple statement that a number of people have offered that has been helpful . . . “I’m sorry for what you’re going through.  We love you and are praying for you.  If you need anything we’re here for you.”  . . . Stop.  Just stop at that point.  Nothing else needs to be said.  Asking them to call whenever you have an update is a burden.  Asking them to keep you informed is a burden.  Clearly communicate that they don’t need to call you back or keep you updated, but if they need someone to talk to you are available for them.

If time allows and the discussion opens up for further interaction . . .

  • Offer helpful tips that you learned through your own journey.  For example: “Take a comfy blanket to chemo.  Have some gas-x. You might be really tired after having taken a large dose of steroids for 4 straight days and it’s okay to take a nap.”  . . . or similar tips.  I’m sure I’ll have more later 🙂
  • Share verses, quotes, songs, etc that were an encouragement to you through your own journey.  This has probably been the biggest encouragement to us.  One dear friend texted Linda a verse or quote nearly every day for a couple of weeks.  That was a tremendous encouragement.
  • Send thoughtful notes (remember not to include all those things to not say above). We have loved getting notes from dear friends.

I understand why people choose to not tell others about their burdens.

As a pastor, I’ve often struggled with members of our church family not sharing the struggles they are going through . . . that is until now.  I get it.  As much as you may want others to walk through a struggle with you, you may equally want to avoid all the baggage that comes with others walking through a struggle with you.   Some choose option B:  don’t tell anyone and in that way avoid all the unhelpful stories, poorly discerned statements, ill timed visits, etc.

But is that the solution?  I don’t think so.

The need / burden must be communicated.

You may feel like shouting, “I don’t want to tell anyone!  I don’t want people to bother me!”  Fine, choose a select group of people to tell, but tell someone.  If you choose to tell just your family and some select friends or you choose to tell every former fellow employee, church, and third and forth cousin you’ve ever momentarily connected with; it doesn’t really matter . . . but remember, your journey can be a story of God’s glory.  Let others be a part of that.  It’s truly amazing when God works in a wonderful way and a group of people can celebrate along side of you because they have been walking with you through it.  Let your burden be an instrument to declare the glory of God.  The passage in Galatians 6 presumes that the person with the burden communicated he had the burden.  It is then that the imperative in the verse comes into play . . .

Bear one another’s burdens.


Here’s an example of a song a family member shared with me that was an encouragement.  Thanks for bearing our burden!

“Sovereign Over Us”

There is strength within the sorrow
There is beauty in our tears
And You meet us in our mourning
With a love that casts out fear
You are working in our waiting
You’re sanctifying us
When beyond our understanding
You’re teaching us to trust

Your plans are still to prosper
You have not forgotten us
You’re with us in the fire and the flood
You’re faithful forever
Perfect in love
You are sovereign over us

You are wisdom unimagined
Who could understand Your ways
Reigning high above the Heavens
Reaching down in endless grace
You’re the lifter of the lowly
Compassionate and kind
You surround and You uphold me
And Your promises are my delight

Even what the enemy means for evil
You turn it for our good
You turn it for our good and for Your glory
Even in the valley, You are faithful
You’re working for our good
You’re working for our good and for Your glory

5 thoughts on “A New Spin on “Bear One Another’s Burdens”

  1. Thank you for the advice. Thank you for telling us what it is you need and so making it possible for us to share your burden. I appreciate the forthright expression of “this is helpful to us now”. You also said in a much kinder way than I would: “You must be nuts to think that what you just said would be encouraging.” You are much more gracious than I am!

    When I read or hear a Bible verse about “burdens” I think of two classical choral pieces I’ve sung:

    From Messiah by Handel — “His yoke is easy and his burden is light.” [My comment on this: It doesn’t always feel “easy” or “light”.]

    From Elijah by Mendelssohn — “Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and he shall sustain thee. He never will suffer the righteous to fall: He is at thy right hand. Thy mercy, Lord, is great, and far above the heavens. Let none be made ashamed, that wait upon Thee!”

  2. You are all in my prayers many times a day the Lord puts you on my mind. This was good advice for all of us who have friends making this journey. I am thankful you have such a wonderful church family who are taking care of you. That has to be a real help and encouragement. You are much loved.

  3. You are kind but why not just say “Leave us alone for awhile” that way people stop saying the things you don’t want to hear. You are loved and prayed for on a regular basis so if you don’t hear from anyone please feel the love and prayers.

    • Don’t leave me alone!!! Your notes of encouragement mean so much!! Many have stopped since this post, but I don’t think that was Aaron’s purpose. Hearing from people that they are praying, or have a verse to help, has been a great source of comfort to my heart!

  4. Linda, I have been friends with Aaron’s mom since our high school days and have shared our joys and sorrows with each other throughout the years. My youngest son, Jeff and Aaron were close buddies in elementary school until we moved away. I just want you to know that although we have never met in person, I have known you since before you married Aaron (from Janice) and am thankful God gave him such a wonderful wife. Please be encouraged to know that our hearts are knit in prayer with others for you, Aaron and family as you journey this difficult path.

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