We live in a very individualistic society where it is socially acceptable to look after “number 1” first (yourself), and put others second, if at all. It is a very radical idea these days to ask one to carry the burdens of others, or even just to care and have sympathy for others.
After all, doesn’t everyone have their own fair share of problems to worry about? However, the Bible teaches us something different. We are actually taught to die to self and repeatedly taught to think of others before ourselves.
I know of two people who are going through a turbulent time in their relationship at the moment. I’ll refer to them both as John and Sally. Sally has gone through some very tough personal circumstances, as has John. However, Sally’s circumstances are affecting her in a more serious manner, while John is channeling his focus into other areas and appears to be handling things well.
Sally has been suffering from a lot of anxiety and stress due to her circumstances and she has even had to see a psychologist and seek pastoral counselling in order to cope. John and Sally love and care about each other a lot, they have great a time together, and when the conversations are positive, they are both happy.
However, they struggle to have constructive exchanges about difficult topics. I must admit that I know Sally a lot better than I know John, so I can only speak from her perspective.
Every time Sally tries to tell John about things that upset her, which may include his own actions, whether direct or indirect, it causes an argument. John finds Sally to be selfish and burdening him with her problems every time she raises issues, or tries to communicate with him about things that upset her, many with which he is in disagreement.
Sally tries to do it in a calm and constructive manner but it still somehow ends in an argument. It has gotten to the point where John will not even listen to her, and tells her to “stop turning your problems into my problems, just learn to deal with it yourself”.
This reaction further upsets Sally, especially because when she speaks to others in her close circle, most are calm and supportive, they offer advice, they pray for her, and they regularly check in to see how she is travelling. Whereas John, someone who she feels should be the closest to her, shows her very little sympathy or support.
Indeed, there are perhaps many complexities to this example, but this is an overall summary of the turbulent situation they are in. Both John and Sally need to work hard to improve this situation, but it makes one reflect on how we should be caring for others, even if we do not agree with them.
We are all selfish
Romans chapter 3, verse 23, says that “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”. Everyone sins, and most sin derives from selfishness, when we put ourselves above God and above others. While some people can often make themselves victims of their woundedness, and become consumed with their own problems and troubles, the Christian response is to still care for these people and love them.
Galatians chapter 6, verse 32, says “bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ”. The Bible actually teaches us to carry one another’s burdens in order to fulfill the law of Christ. This means that when we see other people suffering, hurting, with whatever situation they may be in, we must be loving and caring, and seek to support them, even when we don’t understand or don’t agree with their feelings.
This is a very difficult thing to do in a selfish world. After all, it is often a burden to this. We will need to sacrifice our time, maybe our money, our mental and physical energy and sometimes much more. Our natural instinct is to lose patience with wounded and broken people who always seem to be unhappy and unload it onto us.
On the other hand, we can sometimes be so consumed with ourselves, that we lack sympathy, and choose to avoid hurt people because it makes our lives more comfortable. Acknowledging that not every situation is black and white, and we do need to draw boundaries sometimes, I think most of us can admit that we can improve in the way we handle challenging people and conflict in relationships.
I was listening to a sermon on this very topic not long ago, and the minister said something along the lines of, “just because someone feels upset about something, that you don’t also feel upset about, doesn’t mean that they are wrong and their feelings are wrong. One person can feel cold, and another warm while standing in the same room. It doesn’t mean one is right or wrong, it’s what they are feeling”
We can often dismiss the feelings of others, especially if we disagree with them. However this is not a Christ-like way to behave. We should deeply care for others, and try to see things from their perspective, and counsel with love.
As always, we should look to Jesus as the perfect example. He cared deeply for those who were broken, lonely, and often shunned by society. Jesus also tells us, “come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest”. We should firstly give all our problems and troubles to God. Then, do our best to care for others in the same way Christ cares for us.
Isabelle White is the Vice President Development and Publicity Officer of the ZEST Evangelical Service which operates a mission school, and facilitates the training of pastors in Vinukonda, India. Isabelle is a member of New Life Christian Church in Sydney, Australia and currently works as a French and English teacher.
Isabelle White’s previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/isabelle-white.html