Galatians 6:2, “Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” Matthew 22:37-40, “Jesus said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”
We had dear friends when we lived in Nebraska. We were both military families. We went to the same church. We lived in the same neighborhood and our children went to school together. We had family dinners. We took trips together. You get the picture. Through a tragic set of circumstances, our relationship to this family taught me something important about community.
One evening, the wife and their two daughters came home from the movies to discover that our friend had suffered a terrible accident in his workshop and did not survive. Steve was one of the first calls and we rushed over to their house. Steve stayed with the wife, and I brought the girls home with me where they spent the night. The kids and I did what we could to comfort them. It was shocking, tragic, and the scope of the grief was overwhelming. For us, deep though it was, it was still a somewhat peripheral grief. We were not family, but we were close friends. We wanted to help in any way that we could because that is what we are supposed to do, as friends, as church family, and as members of the military community, but most importantly because we love these people dearly.
In the days following the accident, we made ourselves available to our friend and the girls and in making ourselves available, we witnessed and received an extraordinary gift. Our friend accepted all the help she could get. Every offer was accepted, not only from us but from the rest of the community. She accepted meals. She accepted help cleaning her house. She accepted women sitting with her, helping her make the funeral arrangements. She had the guys clear out her husband’s office. I took care of the girls and was one of the women who was with her in the days and weeks that followed. Steve was given the honor of Military Escort, accompanying the body during the transport to Minneapolis where our friend’s body would be laid to rest. This woman showed extraordinary grace and generosity in the depth of her despair. She masterfully made everyone feel included not only in the grief but in the healing. By allowing us to help carry her load, we all were comforted in our grief.
It was during this time that I realized carrying one another’s burdens is a give-and-take proposition. We are good at giving help. We sign up to cook meals. We are willing to buy groceries, clean houses. We lend our strength. We pray. We reach out, and that is very good. What I have noticed, however, in myself and in others, it is far easier to give help than it is to receive it. Many of us loathe to ask for help. We may receive a meal. We will take prayer because that can be done at a distance. But real, physical help is often rejected. We will refuse it even when it is desperately needed, or we will only ask a select few people in our family/friend circle. I wonder why this is. Do you suppose it has to do with complicated feelings of vulnerability, control, or powerlessness? We do not want to be seen as needy, or worse…weak. We would much rather be the person lending strength than needing to take strength from another. The thing is, we make it so much harder on ourselves and we deny the other person the opportunity, the gift of giving help. Maybe we do not know how to ask for help. Maybe we don’t know what to ask for. Whatever the issue is, accepting help has immense value.
Our friend taught me by example that accepting help can be a great gift. It fulfills the law of Christ. It is loving self and loving others. Giving and accepting help builds relationship. It feeds connectedness. It includes people in the healing or grieving process. Giving and receiving help promotes gratitude and leads to better health physically, mentally, and relationally for both the giver and receiver.
It is my prayer that our study of Galatians for the past three Sundays, especially Paul’s exhortation to bear one another’s burdens, helps us understand that while it might be better to give than receive from the perspective of selfishness, giving and receiving is a true gift from God. The next time we find ourselves in an overwhelming situation, may we find it in ourselves to receive the help of our loving community. Just a little something to consider. Amen?!