Carrying Another’s Burden

I was working with one of my Basic Composition students whom I’ll call Tom.  The rest of the class had left, and we were plugging through how to organize an expository essay when he began to elaborate on his health issues.

I listened as he told me about the progressive brain disease where his brain is continuing to shrink, and his life expectancy is dwindling to maybe 15 more years.  Tom is 34.

When faced with the suffering or problems of others, our first instinct is to fix them.  While it might be motivated by compassion, our unwillingness to watch others suffer might also be linked to our own unwillingness to suffer with them. It is hard for us to love someone who is hurting (physically or emotionally) because that puts us in pain, too.  So we work like crazy to make them better.

Our “help” can take the form of nagging (my personal specialty) or unwanted or unasked for advice (another talent of mine).  We are unable to rest with the hurting person and just listen, providing the comfort of presence that reminds them that they’re not alone.

In the movie “Love and Other Drugs,” the character Jamie (played by Jake Gyllenhaal) is a pharmaceutical rep who inadvertently falls in love with an artist named Maggie (Anne Hathaway) who has early onset  Parkinson’s disease.  Once he realizes the implications of this disease for their relationship, he is desperate to find a cure.  He flies Maggie to see a number of specialists, and in one part of the story where they have flown in to see a specialist only to find out their appointment was rescheduled, he loses it with the receptionist and creates a scene.

You see, Jamie could only love Maggie if there was hope for a cure, at least at this point in the movie.  It hurt too much to endure her pain with her.

In Galatians 6:2, we’re told to “Share their burdens, and so complete Christ’s law” (The Message).  We’re not told to fix them or change them, but to share in their heartache and their misfortunes.  Sooner or later, we will need someone to share our problems, too.

The good news in this bleak picture is twofold.  First, it’s not up to us to fix everyone’s problems or illnesses.  It is helpful to realize that we are limited, that God is not limited, and that He’s keeping an eye on everything so there’s no need to worry.  Next, we have a Triune God who loves us in the midst of our mess and our brokenness and who isn’t afraid to sit with us in it.  The Father, Son, and Spirit are not put off by our problems.  If anything, they are willing to sit with us because they know it will all turn out OK.   They have chosen to make it that way.

So as I listened to my student Tom tell me his questions of “why me?” and his concerns for the future, I managed to keep quiet.  I laid my well-intentioned advice to the side, and I sat with him while he bore his health burden.  I’d like to think my attention, my reflective listening (I did my best), and my presence offered comfort and reassurance.  I’d like to think that Jesus was sitting with us, in the midst of Tom’s mess, reminding us both that we’re never forsaken, never left alone.

~Nan Kuhlman

7 comments so far

  1. Virginia McNeely on

    Thanks I needed to hear that.

    • Nan Kuhlman on

      Virginia and Tim,

      I’m glad the post resonated with you both. It makes me feel better to know that I’m not the only one who struggles with figuring out where my responsibility in a situation ends and where God’s begins, or even how they seem to overlap sometimes.

  2. Timothy on

    Most well-written Nan! I guess I can scratch this subject off my list of things to write about because you have stated it EXCELLENTLY! 🙂 Nothing speaks more of the unconditional presence and love of the Triune God than his presence with us unconditionally, and through us shared with others! Ha-Ha!

    I think your statement “It is hard for us to love someone who is hurting (physically or emotionally) because that puts us in pain, too. So we work like crazy to make them better.” is very insightful in laying bare our less than noble motives in “serving” others!

    You have a wonderful way of writing in the Gospel, and with clarity, that I appreciate!

  3. Ian Woodley on

    Hello Nan, many thanks for sharing these wonderful thoughts. We have a number of congregation members who do not use the internet – so would it be ok to publish this in our local newsletter? I’ll make reference to the Trinity & Humanity blog – especially as I’d like to encourage everyone to put this blog on their reading list!
    Ian Woodley, Nottingham UK GCI Congregation

    • Nan Kuhlman on


      I would be pleased to have the post republished for your congregation, with the byline and web reference to the Trinity and Humanity blog and The Adopted Life website. I’m glad to hear you found it encouraging, and I hope many of your congregation become frequent readers of the Trinity and Humanity blog!


  4. Kelly on

    Nan – for all us ‘fixers’, thank you! sharing it on facebook.


    • Nan Kuhlman on


      It’s always good to be reminded that we’re all human, and we have much more in common than we realize. Thanks for your comment and Facebook share!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: