Walking with someone through suffering is an incredibly delicate thing. Because it’s not only draining for the one experiencing suffering, it can be draining for those supporting said sufferer. I’ve experienced this a couple times over my short lifespan, and quickly learned boundaries are the best possible way to support someone else while taking care of yourself. One of the phrases most commonly used with my friends going through suffering is “I’m sorry, I know I’m a burden.” That phrase has haunted me because I never know how to respond. If I’m honest with myself, when someone is struggling, their load is heavier and they need to share it. As a friend, you will take some of the burden to lighten their load. Well, a true friend should do this, anyway. And that can feel, well, burdensome! But I try to think of it as the person’s experiences have played a role in creating that burden, it’s not the person him or herself that is the burden. Maybe my response should be, “no, you’re not a burden, but the load you carry is very heavy, and I’m honored you entrusted me to share that burden with you.”
But you know what? I believe sharing one another’s burdens is an opportunity to show each other love through service and sacrifice. And this can be applied anywhere, not just for those experiencing life altering suffering. Let me give you an example:
Because of the cooler weather (relatively speaking), Jim has been taking the car into work more than his motorcycle. Without a car, I depend on rides from co-workers daily in order to get to my own job. That makes me a burden, having to depend on someone else for everyday transportation. I have the ability to walk, but more often than not, a co-worker will pick me up since my home is along the way to work. These ladies could be thinking 1 of 3 things: 1) man, picking up Mackenzie sure is a pain, but somebody has got to do it! 2) picking up Mackenzie is fine, just so long as she doesn’t inconvenience me or 3) I’m glad I get to pick up Mackenzie, because through this act of giving her a ride, I can show her that I care. Besides, she’s just the greatest and my mornings are so much better with her around!
Ok, so I may have added that last part in, but they could be thinking that!
Galatians 6:2 (NIV):
2 Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.
The word “burden” obviously has a negative connotation to it. But we’re called to carry one another’s burdens. Some are heavier than others, obviously, but it’s what we’re supposed to do. I wonder if we should start changing the conversation about the word “burden.” Not something to be ashamed of, but view it as an opportunity, a way to show Christ’s love in a specific way to that person in a way they’ll appreciate it most.
I still think boundaries need to be set in place, though. For instance, I shouldn’t start asking my co-workers, “since you give me a lift to work, would you mind taking me to the grocery store after work, the uniform plus store so I can pick up another pair of scrubs, to Lee’s to grab some coffee and drop me back off at home?” Asking for an occasional ride to a doctor’s appointment is one thing, but I shouldn’t expect my co-workers to run me around for my own personal errands. And if I did ask them to do that, I should FULLY expect them to say no. Why? Because I’m not fully their responsibility. Yes, they’re helping lighten my load by getting me to work, but they shouldn’t feel obligated to lighten my load in ALL other areas of my life.
I’m really writing this to preach to myself, because I want to continue bearing one another’s burdens. But I need to set boundaries, because I’m only able to help if I can properly take care of myself. I used to feel guilty for setting boundaries because I felt like I wasn’t being a good friend, not being available every hour of every day. But setting boundaries is not weakness, it’s strength. It’s like the term I’ve used in one of my earlier blog posts from one of Tim Keller’s books, The Meaning of Marriage. He refers to a “love tank.” I can only love people more fully if my own love tank is getting filled. In order to do this, I need to spend time filling my love tank through reading the Word, spending time in prayer, seeking God daily, and fulfilling my duties as a wife, employee, sister, daughter, aunt, and friend to the best of my ability. I can love others because Jesus loves me, and He is my source of love. Because of His sacrifice, my love tank can constantly be filled, no matter how often I’m let down by others. Anyway, I think of setting boundaries as a “service tank.” If I want to better serve, I need to take care of myself, so I can be refueled every day for another day of service. I repeat, setting boundaries is not a sign of weakness. You’ll be able to help more if you’re fully present and fully focused, but you won’t be if you’re constantly being drained. Instead, you’ll be exhausted, weary and resentful.
Speaking of refueling, it’s about time I’d do that with a good, long run. There is always a burden to be shared, and I want to serve to the best of my ability.
Let’s get to it.
*note: Tim Keller has written a book titled “Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering.” I fully intend on purchasing and studying this book, to further my ability to serve and understand others walking through the unbearable. But if any of you are looking for good literature, I’ve read a few of his other books (The Reason for God, The Prodigal God, Counterfeit Gods, The Meaning of Marriage, etc.) and highly recommend his work.