Carry one another’s burdens: 8 ways to help those who are hurting

“Love one another as I have loved you.” What makes this commandment so profound is the way Jesus loved. Over and over again, he generously came alongside the sick, the distressed, and the poor and helped to lighten their loads. How, then, can we emulate the love of Jesus by carrying one another’s burdens?

The parable of the good Samaritan. The lepers. Lazarus’ grieving family. Throughout his ministry on earth, Jesus highlighted the importance of not only noticing those who are hurting but also helping to carry their burdens.

It’s a gift he generously offers to us as well (“Take my yoke upon you … and you will find rest for your souls.” Matthew 11:29). Part of generous living, of loving one another as Jesus has loved us, is looking for opportunities to carry one another’s burdens in the same way.

What can we do when someone we know is hurting? What can we say to a neighbor who lost a job? To a terminally sick mother? To a grieving friend? When the burden is too heavy, it’s tempting to look the other way, thinking there’s nothing we can do to help. But God has given us so much to be generous with, and some of our deepest wells of generosity are arguably not tangible or monetary at all.

Carrying another’s burden doesn’t have to be complicated. It doesn’t require solving the problem. In fact, it’s often best if you don’t try to solve anything. All it takes is seeing, noticing, loving, caring – just like Jesus did.

Here are a few simple ways to help carry one another’s burdens:

  1. Connect with strangers in a genuine way. Throughout his life, when Jesus came across strangers – Zacchaeus, a crippled beggar, the woman at the well – he looked beyond the flesh and into their hearts. Everyone you come across is carrying a burden. A genuine smile and addressing someone by their name, when possible, goes a long way toward simply letting them know they are seen.
  2. Sit in silence. The Bible tells us that when Job’s three friends (though not perfect) saw how intense their friend’s suffering was, they sat in silence with him for seven days. Many times, in the wake of tragedy, words are neither necessary nor sufficient, but your presence is. Silence may be uncomfortable for you, but for those who are suffering, it can be the only bearable sound.
  3. Understand the burden. Before beginning his ministry, a young Jesus intentionally sought information from seasoned religious leaders. He understood the people he would be teaching, the struggles they met each day. In the same way, part of empathy, of helping to bear a burden, is educating yourself. Instead of relying on the one with the burden to explain why it is so heavy, seek out information beforehand, and bring to the sacred space of suffering the gift of understanding.
  4. Don’t fix or explain. The gift of understanding, however, can become an additional burden if you use it to fix or explain someone’s situation to them. Understanding is only meant to help you ask the right questions and relieve the burden of having to explain the difficult intricacies of their pain. Remember, each person is the expert of their own story. You will only be able to understand so much. They understand the nuances of their specific situation better than anyone else. Most of the time, they don’t need solutions; they just need a friend who understands.
  5. Be a good listener. From Proverbs to the Gospels to James, the Bible repeatedly highlights the power of listening well. Throughout his ministry, Jesus not only listened to what people said, but also to attitudes and emotions. Sometimes, that kind of genuine listening – listening for the purpose of connecting on a soul level – is all that’s needed. When we are hurting, the simple exercise of putting our pain into words is incredibly healing. Offer space for that by being a good listener.
  6. Attend the hard stuff. The days and months after a loss or life-changing diagnosis come with more impossible days and tasks than any of us are prepared for. The first holiday after a divorce. Taking a death certificate to update bank accounts. Hours-long chemo treatments. Offer to accompany a friend or loved one on these difficult days. As impossible as these challenges are, not having to do them alone can make them more bearable.
  7. Don’t ask, do. Grief and loss can be all-consuming. When you ask a friend who is dealing with life-altering circumstances, “Do you need anything?” they may not be able to think of a single thing – even though the dirty dishes are overflowing to the floor, they have been out of toilet paper for three days, and they’re wearing the same stained sweatshirt they wore when you saw them last week. Instead of waiting for them to tell you what they need, observe and act. Drop essentials on their porch. Offer to help a friend who has lost a job purchase Christmas or birthday gifts. If you know them well, stop by to wash dishes and do the laundry. Bring a meal and actually plate it for them.
  8. Remember. One of the heaviest burdens we carry is the burden of remembrance – of the joyful times as well as the sorrowful, of the day our lives changed forever, of keeping a loved one’s memory alive. Simply putting a significant date on your calendar – a birthday or anniversary – and sending a text each year – “Thinking of you and remembering (name) especially today.” – lets someone know they are not alone in their continued grief; they are not alone in remembering their loved one.

Carrying one another’s burdens can be a long process. It’s easy to remember in the first week or month, but these events ripple throughout a lifetime. Because of the compassion and comfort we continually receive from God, Christians should be uniquely capable of providing long-term comfort and care.

Our brothers and sisters in Christ are struggling with mental health, addiction, loss, trauma, and all the other heartaches that come from living in a fallen world. Choosing to walk alongside one another, to carry one another’s burdens all the way to the end of the road, is one of the most generous things we can do.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.”

– 2 Corinthians 1:3-4

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