Recently, I wondered “Why Do We Think We Have To Go It All Alone?” My friend Roxanne Carlile responded with an interesting comment that flooded my mind with thoughts.
Our society is so interesting. The way we think we need to appear as if we have it all together. But also, the way we seem to have no idea how to respond when someone does go out on a limb and bare their soul. We are so uncomfortable with any emotion other than happiness. We often think that bearing another’s burdens means fixing them, and if we can’t do that, we retreat out of helplessness, leaving the person with a burden even more lost.
I think as much as we need a reminder that it’s ok to be real (and we really do!), and to accept our own emotions, we need to stop expecting people to put on a show to help those around them be more comfortable. As always, it comes back to Christ. Striving to give and receive that true charity, that pure and unconditional love, and knowing that even if you don’t think you’re getting it from anyone around you, you can always feel relief from the Comforter.
Some part of me used to feel that part of my obligation/opportunity in keeping baptismal covenants meant that I had to carry the burden and then solve the person’s burden so then it would be light. So as I listened to people’s burdens, I prepared their “to-do” list and then kindly presented the list (in a variety of ways) as we finished time together. It’s always easier for an outside observer to see steps to solve a problem. I often could see steps to solve the problem.
Some people like being rescued. And I happily played that role and looked for others to rescue me. But over time, I realized that just being rescued doesn’t actually mean we won’t find ourselves in the exact same pattern of behavior or similar situation over and over again. I spent tons of mental and physical hours trying to rescue people who shortly landed in the “same” situation again.
As I grew wiser and more experienced, I began asking what the person felt he/she needed to do or was prepared to do. That gave me great insight into their frame of reference.
I met two women who solidified my budding theory that “fix-it” change won’t occur unless we are ready to change—not just saying we want change (no one willingly admits to wanting to stay in horrible life patterns, but sometimes the known is less scary or more comfortable than the unknown), but actually being willing to change.
These were extreme situations and taught me extreme lessons.
A friend and I loved a friend of ours whom I’ll call Mara. We’d known Mara a while. Her life regularly hovered in the catastrophic crisis phase. She was exhausted, depleted, unappreciated. She experienced financial rock bottom. Her children were acting out in school, so she punished her children by ignoring them. She said she didn’t talk to them for days because they didn’t respect her and were acting out.
We met Mara one night when she didn’t see a point to her life anymore. We told her how much we loved her and just let her talk. She mentioned the financial issues and her children’s issues as her main critical climax.
We knew that basic budgeting provided easy fixes to many of the financial issues. And we both felt that one reason the children acted out was because their mom emotionally walled them off. As we gently offered support in these areas, she flailed the conversation in other directions. When she started talking about how she had no control over any of her circumstances again, we tried to empower her by suggesting that she could have control over her circumstances.
She absolutely could not hear us. My friend and I, at basically the same moment, realized that even though she hated her life, she wasn’t ready to change it yet and she could not hear anything requiring that. We both just listened. When she realized she wouldn’t have to hear us trying to confirm her ability to “do,” she settled into telling us about how unfair life was to her.
She felt love as we silently listened. She didn’t want a change. She just wanted to be heard where she was and for who she was. And we willingly did that for her and continued to just listen. Nothing has changed, but she knows we are there for her when she needed us.
I met a friend I’ll call Gladys in the emergency room. Gladys was there after being beaten by her husband in a drug-induced, violent fit. I’d never met her before, but went when I received the call asking me to go to her.
She told me he’d beaten her before. Before, she’d gone back amidst his promises of regret and tears of sorrow. She told me she was done. I told her I would help in whatever ways would be helpful.
She struggled through so much, but she gained a clear vision of who she wanted to be and how she wanted to live. She wanted change.
In the coming days, she moved to a shelter. I took her supplies as needed. She found a job. She worked hard. She eventually found a place to live. He found her. She moved again. Repeat. Though enduring things no mother should have to endure, she broke the cycle and flew on her newfound wings.
A friend and I visited her at least once a month to chat for an hour. I sat astonished in her presence. She stopped victimizing herself. Her empowerment grew. She knew how to succeed. She set goals. She exceeded them. She inspired me to make my own changes in areas I hated, but grew complacent. For her, everything changed.
She found an amazing, stable, respectful man who is completely smitten with her. And why wouldn’t he be? She is beauty from ashes. My heart soars every time I think of her and everything she accomplished.
So how do you bear another’s burden?
“Meet her where she is” became a mantra for me. Every person is unique. Everyone approached issues differently. I totally understand that.
I used to try to “fix” things when I heard people’s stories, but I realized that while there are some things I can help fix, the solution and the ability resides in the soul of the burdened. Sometimes we’re ready to fix “it” and sometimes we’re not. When we are, we can. So now, I realize the best way I can bear another’s burdens is to just listen and support their course of action or inaction.
I feel like that’s what the Lord does with me. He listens. There are some things I’m still not ready to change. Other things have already been kicked to the curb. When I’m ready to act, He is there to carry the burden/remove the burden from me—even if it’s just changing my perspective that something in my life is “bad” to “learnable” or “good.” There are so many ways that “Jesus Christ Will Change Your Burdens.”
But first, you and I have to decide if we really are happy carrying our burdens or if we’d like our lives to change and drop those burdens at the Savior’s feet.
Previously posted at LDSBlogs.com.