We Should Bear Each Other’s Burden

We Should Bear Each Other’s Burden April 27, 2022

No Artist Listed: Abba Lot Of Egypt / Wikimedia Commons

Christianity, teaching us that we should love everyone, tells us that we are called to embrace everyone, lifting people up by our words and deeds. We are not to be selfish, looking only after ourselves. We must not place our inordinate desires above the needs of others. We truly should be concerned about others, looking after their welfare (cf. Philip. 2:4). If someone is in need, if someone has a great burden in their live, and we can help them, we should do so, and if we can’t, we should not make things worse for them, making their suffering that much greater. This is true, not only for physical needs, but spiritual ones as well. Just as we should promote social justice, making sure those who are downtrodden, those who have been refused some element of justice in their lives, can find it, we should promote spiritual charity, helping people rise up and experience the glory of grace for themselves.

If we encounter people who are troubled with all kinds of temptations, indeed, people who find it so difficult to resist the temptations they have that they often slip up and act upon them, our response should be of love and concern. We must not berate them, using their lapse as an excuse to justify our abuse. We must not cause them further injury, but rather, we must find ways to be with them, to show them love and concern. And the best way to do this is to be in solidarity with them, sharing their burden with them, as Paul makes it clear:

Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Look to yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ (Gal. 6:1-2 RSV).

We must be gentle with others, showing them kindness and respect. This is how we show we care. We do not help them, we do not share their burden with them, if we are judgmental and treat them harshly for what they have done. Showing them love by being kind and gentle with them, helping them deal with their spiritual burdens and anxieties, we will give them the best means to find the love which they need to lift themselves up out of the situation they find themselves in, to embrace the path of love for themselves, and through that path, find themselves engaging and developing a holy way of life for themselves. For, as St. John Chrysostom preached, every virtue flows out of such love: “Surely, love is the beginning and the end of every virtue. May it comes to pass that we enjoy a true and constant love for others and that we come to the kingdom of heaven through the grace and loving-kindness of our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom be glory and power forever and ever.”[1]

It is not always easy to bear the burden of others, to join in solidarity with them and show them our love. We might find ourselves being tempted to go against the dictates of love and engage in a rigorous legalism which leads to spiritual death, not only of those we condemn, but of ourselves. We must resist that reaction. Whenever we find ourselves confronted with those in need, especially if they cry out in desperation because of their need, we should do all we can to bear their burdens with them, to be in solidarity with them instead of pushing them away. We should not judge, because that is not our role; we should not condemn them for their struggles, for that is the fruit of unjust judgment. We should bear with them as they deal with their burdens, listening to them as they express their trials and tribulations, and respond to them with words of care, words which truly show we are listening to them and love them. Abba Lot, understanding this, was shown to have this kind of care and concern for a fellow monk:

It was related of a brother who had committed a fault that when he went to Abba Lot, he was troubled and hesitated, going in and coming out, unable to sit down. Abba Lot said to him, ‘What is the matter, brother?’ He said, ‘I have committed a great fault and I cannot acknowledge it to the Fathers.’ The old man said to him, ‘Confess it to me, and I will carry it.’ Then he said to him, ‘I have fallen into fornication, and in order to do it, I have sacrificed to idols.’ The old man said to him, ‘Have confidence; repentance is possible. Go, sit in your cave, eat only once in two days and I will carry half of your fault with you.’ After three weeks, the old man had the certainty that God had accepted the brother’s repentance. Then the latter remained in submission to the old man until his death.[2]

How we bear the burden of others might differ from context to context, even as the way people are engage their temptations will differ from situation to situation. Those living in a monastic community, for example, will have their own ways to deal with their temptations, ways which will necessarily differ from how they should be dealt with by those living in secular society. A monastic way of life is, by nature, a stricter way of life, so the kind of encouragement which will be given to a monk or nun will be different from that which is given to someone who does not have such a vocation. This is why what is important for most readers, who are not ascetics themselves, to learn from Abba Lot’s compassion and desire to share the monk’s burden than it is to imitate the way he did so. Abba Lot wanted to restore the monk in such a way that he could continue his vocation as a monk, and that required a kind of discipline which might not be, and often is not, suited for those without such a religious vocation.

What is important, then, is for us to engage the situation we find ourselves in, and realize that there is no one way in which others can and should fight their temptations, their anxieties and fears. What we need to do is find the best way to encourage each other and lift each other up in the situations we find ourselves in (cf. 1 Thes. 5:11). We should never push people away, never judge or condemn them in such a way as to have them give in to despair. We should always show that love is stronger than legalism. If we embrace love, we will seek to find a way to lessen their burden by sharing it with them. This, after all, is one of the reasons why God became one of us, so that in the incarnation,  God could truly share and embrace our burden with us.

[1] St. John Chrysostom, On the Incomprehensible Nature of God. Trans. Paul W. Harkins (Washington, DC: CUA Press, 1982), 269 [Homily 10].

[2] The Sayings of the Desert Fathers. trans. Benedicta Ward (Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, 1984), 6122 [Saying of Abba Lot 2].


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