Loneliness is at epidemic proportions. Is there something that Scripture might offer to lonely, struggling souls? Among the “one another” statements of the New Testament, is there one that might provide hope?
Read Galatians 6:1–5. I am especially drawn to “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal 6:2, NIV). Or, as the ESV renders it, “Bear one another’s burdens . . .” We can only bear one another’s burdens if we are aware of one another’s burdens.
Every single one of us needs friends— not acquaintances, but friends—with whom we have the ability to be completely open and real. These are the people with whom we can share our joys and our sorrows, our victories and our defeats. They know who we are and we know who they are. When either of us asks, “How are you doing?” the answer that comes back will be real and authentic and accurate. When that happens, sharing happens. And when sharing happens, bearing can happen. And when we bear one another’s burdens, we are carrying out, fulfilling, the law, the will, the desire and design of Christ. The simple truth is, you never know what burdens another human being might be bearing . . . including the human being seated next to you in the pew.
The author Craig Gross notes the fact that the beautiful Golden Gate Bridge, the icon that connects the city of San Francisco with Marin County, California, USA, despite all of its beauty, has also become a destination for people caught in a web of isolation and depression and hopelessness. They go there hoping to put an end to their suffering. Gross notes that a suicide note was “collected [there] a few years ago that was written by an anonymous person as they made their way to the Golden Gate Bridge. The writer remarked that he was walking to the bridge with the intent of ending his life; but one sentence of the note immediately leapt out. . . . [It simply said,] ‘If one person smiles at me on the way . . . I will not jump.’ . . . [Tragically,] he jumped.”1 You just never know what burdens another human being might be bearing . . . including the human being seated next to you in the pew.
Essentially, Paul says that in the Christian community, no one is to bear anything alone. In that classic book, The Desire of Ages, Ellen G. White writes, “There are souls perplexed with doubt, burdened with infirmities, weak in faith, and unable to grasp the Unseen; but a friend whom they can see, coming to them in Christ’s stead, can be a connecting link to fasten their trembling faith upon Christ.”2 Do you know what is really sobering about those words? Here today is someone who came to worship staggering under a secret burden. You’re surrounded by people, and yet you feel all alone. You feel that no one understands, that no one cares, and maybe most painful of all, you feel that if others knew the real you, they would reject you, walk away, and leave you alone to fend for yourself. And so you have built an isolating wall around you that no one can penetrate. But behind that wall you experience deep loneliness. Behind that wall, you weep bitter tears. Behind that wall, you stagger under a heavy burden. And the fact that you’re trying to carry it all alone only makes it seem heavier. Well, if that describes you, then Paul has something to tell you today. He has a word for you—a message of both challenge and encouragement. To you he says, “In the Christian community, no one is to bear anything alone.”
But you may feel that it’s all your own fault that you’re there, that your own unwise choices are responsible for placing you behind that wall of isolation. Well, you probably noticed that today’s passage began with the words “If someone is caught in a sin . . .” (Gal 6:1, NIV). One of the clear outcomes of falling into sin—whether we do so willingly or whether we fall out of weakness—is that it will leave a burden in its wake, a burden that we have to carry. That burden can be the burden of guilt or the burden of consequences or the burden of broken relationships with God and with others. The burden of sins committed is a heavy burden to bear.
So Paul says, “restore that person gently. . . . Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal 6:1–2, NIV). In the Christian community, no one is to bear anything alone. Some may say, “I don’t need that kind of relationship, that kind of intimacy.” Well, it’s worth noticing what the following verse has to say. The next verse, verse 3, says, “If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves” (Gal 6:3, NIV).
So today I want to ask you to do something about Paul’s words. While it is true that there are those here today who struggle under heavy burdens that they have shared with no one, it is also true that there are those missing today whose reason for not being here is that very same thing. And I want to ask you to go to them and offer to help carry their burden. I know that’s frightening, but I want you to consider it.
First, right now, think of the name of someone you haven’t seen here in a while. I think we all have names like that. Think of the name of someone like that and then write it down. Secondly, commit to praying for that person throughout this coming week. Pray that God will touch them, bless them, and encourage them. Pray that they will have a vibrant relationship with God and a healthy relationship with others. And thirdly, contact them in some way this week. Text, email, phone call, face-toface—contact them in some way. Contact them and let them know you’ve missed them.
Over the years, I’ve discovered that there are many reasons why people stop connecting with others here in this local expression of the body of Christ. They’ve gone through a divorce, and the shame is too strong. They’ve lost a job, and the embarrassment is too deep. Their children have made unwise choices, and they can’t bear for others to say, “How are your kids doing?” They’re caught in an addiction. They’re struggling with depression. They’re facing a financial reversal. And the bottom line is simple: they’re bearing a heavy burden, and many times, they’re doing it alone. Well, I’m asking you to offer to serve them, to offer to come alongside them, to offer to non-judgmentally listen and care and pray with and for them. I’m asking for you to let them know that in the Christian community, no one is to bear anything alone.
Would you make that commitment here today? And then would you follow through? This week?
1 Craig W. Gross, Go Small: Because God Doesn’t Care about Your Status, Size, or Success (Nashville, TN: Nelson, 2014), 3–4.
2 Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages (Mountain View, CA, Pacific Press, 1894), 297.
Randy Roberts, DMin, LMFT, is the senior pastor of the Loma Linda University Church and vice president of Spiritual Life and Mission, Loma Linda University Health, Loma Linda, CA, USA.