JANUARY 27,2010


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            In his very first novel, Other Voices, Other Rooms, Truman Capote penned these words about the semi-autobiographical hero of the book as the hero walks along a heavy but rotting beam over a brooding, murky creek:


            Stepping gingerly ... he felt he would be balanced here, suspended between land and in the dark and alone.  Then feeling the board shake as Idabel started across, he remembered that he had someone else to be together with.  And he could go on. 


            I love that word picture.  I love the fact that here he is alone and suspended on the beam, feeling isolated and on his own, and then the board shakes, because another was walking with him.  We shiver at the thought of going it alone.  We take comfort in the fact that someone walks with us.

            You see the Christian journey is a shared experience.  We are not to go it alone.  The Apostle Paul directs us to “bear one another’s burdens.”  He directs us to help and aid one another along the way.  The word Paul uses here for “bear” is very descriptive.  It literally refers to the act of carrying a soldier’s pack.  In other words, we are to help each other carry the things that weigh us down.

            Now to do this, to carry or bear one another’s burdens, to help lighten another’s load, requires two things.  First, it requires self-disclosure.  If we are going to bear someone’s burden they have to tell us what is weighing them down.  If they do not tell us what is weighing them down, then how can we help them carry it?  Second, bearing one another’s burdens requires confidentiality.  A person will not tell us how we can help with the lifting, if they do not trust us with privileged information from their lives. 

            Let’ begin with requirement number one:  self-disclosure.  Now this may be our biggest roadblock to obeying this particular one another directive.  Why do I say such a thing?  Because it’s tough to say, “I need you.”   It’s tough to say, “I need help.”  We were brought up to do just the opposite.  For example, do any of these messages sound familiar?


            “Only the strong survive.”

            “Keep a stiff upper lip.”

            “Tough it out.”

            “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.”

            “Nobody wants to hear your problems.  People have enough problems of their own.”

            “Big boys don’t cry.”

            “Suck it up.”


            Unless we were raised by wolves in the wilderness, hardly a day went by when we did not get one of those messages at home or school, on the radio or television.  Our society has encouraged us, and especially men, to be self-sufficient and rugged.

             But what about Jesus?  Was he always self-sufficient and rugged?  Did he ever exhibit weakness?  Did he ever ask for help?  Well, there was that time in the Garden of Gethsemane when he looked like he was melting down, and he asked the disciples to stay up with him in prayer.  In fact, listen to the account.  I’m reading from the fourteenth chapter of Mark’s gospel, beginning in verse thirty-two.


            They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.”  He took Peter, James, and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled.  “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he said to them.  “Stay here and keep watch.”


            That certainly looks like a cry for help.  That certainly sounds like Jesus was asking his disciples to help carry his burden.  And the next day, didn’t someone help him bear the weight of the cross as he walked down the Via Dolorossa?

            So Jesus asked others to bear his burdens, and in light of that, have you ever considered that being open about our weaknesses and struggles and pains can be a gift?  It certainly is a gift to God because it gives God room to operate in our lives.  Vance Havner, a Baptist preacher in the middle of the past century, put it well.  He said, and I absolutely love this,


            God uses broken things.

            Broken soil to produce a crop,

            broken clouds to give rain,

            broken grain to give bread,

            broken bread to give strength.

            It is the broken alabaster box

            that gives forth perfume.  It is Peter,

            weeping bitterly, who returns to

            greater power than ever.


            He’s right.  Some of God’s best work is done with broken, hurting people.  Think about it.  It’s usually our times of weakness that drive us to God.  Weakness, pain, struggle is a gift because it brings us to our knees and gives God elbow room to work in our lives.

            Sharing our weakness, asking others to bear our burdens, can also be a gift to others, not just ourselves.  I’ll always remember a lunch I had with man a number of years ago.  In the space of forty-five minutes he told me in capsulized form the story of his life and his present hurts, fears, and questions.  As he shared, I felt like I was on holy ground.  He allowed me to venture into the raw and real territory of his life.  After lunch, on the way to our cars, he turned and said to me, “I’m sorry I burdened you with all this.”

            The opposite, however, was true.  I said to him, “No, you did not burden me at all.  You just gave me the greatest gift of all, the gift of yourself.  Thank you for trusting me with who you really are.”

            Unfortunately, our societal programming of being self-sufficient, together, adequate for every task and challenge, or the fear of others thinking less of us, keeps us from giving this gift to others.

            The blind songwriter Ken Medema wrote about the church in one of his songs.  Listen to what he sang:


            If this is not a place where tears are understood

                        Then where shall I go to cry?

            And if this is not a place

                        where my spirit can take wings

                                    then where shall I go to fly?

            I don’t need another place

                        for tryin’ to impress you

            With just how good and virtuous I am,

                        no, no, no.

            I don’t need another place

                        for always bein’ on top of things.

            Everybody knows that’s a sham,

                        it’s a sham.

            I don’t need another place

                        for always wearin’ smiles

            Even when it’s not the way I feel.

            I don’t need another place

                        to mouth the same old platitudes.

            Everybody knows that it’s not real.

            So if this is not a place

                        where my questions can be asked

                                    then where shall I go to seek?

            And if this is not a place

                        where my heart cry can be heard

            Where, tell me where, shall I go to speak?


            The Apostle Paul says, this, the church, should be that place.  So the first requirement of bearing burdens is self-disclosure.  The second requirement to live out this directive is confidentiality.  The extent to which we will self-disclose is the extent to which we can trust others with the information we have shared with them.  Unfortunately, the Arabella Young’s of the world keep us from doing this.  Her weatherbeaten tombstone reads,

            Beneath this stone, a Lump of Clay,

                        Lies Arabella Young,

            Who, on this 24th of May,

                        Began to hold her tongue!


            If someone is going to ask us to bear a burden, that person needs to know we will hold our tongue, that we will hold in trust the gift of themselves that they have bestowed upon us, but that is not easy.  Although the rest of our body slows down with time, our tongue does not lose its steam.  I love the limerick.  It goes,


            Our vigor wanes with middle age,

            We find our footsteps lagging;

            Our backbones creak,

            Our sight goes weak,

            And yet our tongues keep wagging.


            If I can’t trust you to hold your tongue, I will not ask you to bear my burden.

            In one of his books, writer Robert Fulgham tells the story of when his daughter was a little girl and gave him a paper bag to take with him to work. When he asked what was in the bag, she answered, "Just some stuff. Take it with you."  When he sat down for lunch at his desk the next day, he pulled out the paper bag and poured out its contents: two ribbons, three stones, a plastic dinosaur, a pencil stub, a tiny seashell, used lipstick, two chocolate Kisses, and thirteen pennies. He chuckled, finished his lunch, and swept everything off into the wastebasket.

            When he arrived at home that evening, his daughter asked him where the bag was. "I left it at the office," he replied. "Why?"

            "Well," she said, "those are my things in the sack, Daddy. The things I really like. I thought you might like to play with them, but now I want them back."

            When she saw him hesitate, tears welled up in her eyes. "You didn't lose the bag, did you Daddy?"

            He said he didn't and that he would bring it home tomorrow. After she went to bed, he raced back to the office. Fulgham writes:


            Molly had given me her treasures … all that a seven-year-old held dear.  Love in a paper sack.  And I missed it.  Not just missed it.  I had thrown it away.  Nothing in there I needed. It wasn't the first or last time I felt like my "Daddy Permit" was about to run out.


            When Fulgham found the bag, he uncrumpled it, and filled it again with his daughter's items: two ribbons, three stones, a plastic dinosaur, a pencil stub, a tiny seashell, used lipstick, two chocolate Kisses, and thirteen pennies.  He took the bag home, sat down with Molly, and had her tell him the story of every treasure in the bag.  He then writes,


            To my surprise, Molly gave me the bag once again several days later.  Same ratty bag.  Same stuff inside.  I felt forgiven.  Over several months, the bag went with me from time to time.  It was never clear to me why I did or did not get it on a certain day.  I began to think of it as the "Daddy Prize," and I tried to be good the night before so I could be given it on the next morning.


            When people share their pains, and struggles, and fears, it may not always seem like much to us.  But the more we hold them in trust, the more they will trust them to us in the future.

            Bear one another’s burdens.  Hold them in trust.