Literally Bearing Another’s Burdens

June 30, 2008 | 10 comments

The Inklings has introduced me to Charles Williams, who was an odd sort of Christian.

One of his oddities was to take the scriptures about bearing one another’s burdens literally. Of course we all take them literally when it comes to sharing work. But he understood it to mean that emotional burdens could literally be shared. If you suffered from grief or temptation, or pain I could agree to accept a portion of that burden, heaven would witness the agreement, and the transaction would be effected. Christ had done this in the Atonement for all of us, he thought, and this was partly what it meant for us to take up our cross and follow Christ.

I don’t know what I think about that. I do know that sometimes I have counseled with my wife or a friend or a priesthood leader and I came out feeling better and they came out feeling rawer, more tender, more quiet. And sometimes I’ve listened to other peoples problems and I’ve felt the virtue going out of me, so to speak. But on the other hand, I doubt that anyone can will a spiritual transaction. The Spirit listeth where it will.

10 Responses to Literally Bearing Another’s Burdens

  1. Matt W. on June 30, 2008 at 11:41 am

    Man I hope Blake Ostler reads this…

  2. Howard on June 30, 2008 at 11:55 am

    Makes perfect sense to me.

  3. Ardis Parshall on June 30, 2008 at 12:37 pm

    I think you’re right that it can’t be forced or made routine, but sharing of emotional burdens sometimes seems to be a very literal thing. I notice it most at funerals, where knowing that others care enough to be there lifts the fear that is part of my grief that someone I love will be forgotten. Maybe nobody else can take the burden fully away, but they can lift the “aloneness” that so often seems to make it heavier.

    This is a nice post, to give us a chance to think about and remember tender times.

  4. Adam Greenwood on June 30, 2008 at 12:47 pm

    I notice it most at funerals, where knowing that others care enough to be there lifts the fear that is part of my grief that someone I love will be forgotten.

    Good point. For what its worth, I think Williams was proposing something more direct than that.

  5. Julie M. Smith on June 30, 2008 at 12:55 pm

    This is a great post. I don’t know if you meant it as a response to Jonathan Green’s on the EQ moving company, but I think it is applicable.

  6. Adam Greenwood on June 30, 2008 at 1:41 pm

    I didn’t.

  7. Nat Whilk on June 30, 2008 at 2:14 pm

    FWIW, Williams persuaded C. S. Lewis on this point, and Lewis prayed to be able to bear some of his wife’s cancer pain and felt that his request was granted.

  8. Adam Greenwood on June 30, 2008 at 2:51 pm

    my sympathies are mostly with Jonathan G., if nothing else because while I’m willing to accept that pain and grief and temptation can possibly be transferred, I doubt you can just will it to happen. If you decide to do it mechanically, I think you’ll get the same result as you’ll get if you take the Moroni 10:5 challenge mechanically. Zip, nada. You almost have to be in a situation where you want to help bad enough that you are already pained, as if you had to sweat blood in Gethsemane before you could be nailed to the cross.

  9. Bookslinger on June 30, 2008 at 5:24 pm

    There are those who seem (to me) to be able to project their emotional/spiritual pain on others. Sometimes it appears to me to be unintentional, and other times deliberate. Such projection sometimes seems to go beyond mere expressing or emoting out into the thin air, but a real influence upon the mind or soul of the other party, as well as altering the environment around the person doing the projection.

    At times I have felt overly sensitive, almost empathic, to such projections.

    But after all, emotions are contagious. Spencer Kimball wrote in his book “Miracle of Forgiveness” that mere thoughts and attitudes and the condition of our soul has at least some kind of influence on those around us.

    I’ve observed this dynamic in social settings in the church’s singles events. When there is a certain minimum amount of positive energy from “lifter-upper” type people, the group can make the burdens of a suffering person seem lighter. But when the lifter-uppers are overwhelmed by those who project their burdens/pain (the “leaners”), no one benefits, and the lifter-uppers withdraw to some degree, emotionally or physically.

  10. Hans on June 30, 2008 at 5:50 pm

    While sharing my burdens with others helps to comfort me and make the burden lighter, I have found it better to bring it to the Lord. Since I am a musician I have also found faith and inspiration in the hymns of the church. One hymn that has helped me in times of trouble is #120, “Lean On My Ample Arm”:

    Lean on my ample arm,
    O thou depressed!
    And I will bid the storm
    Cease in thy breast.
    Whate’er thy lot may be
    On life’s complaining sea,
    If thou wilt come to me,
    Thou shalt have rest.
    If thou wilt come to me,
    Thou shalt have rest.

    Lift up thy tearful eyes,
    Sad heart, to me;
    I am the sacrifice
    Offered for thee.
    In me thy pain shall cease,
    In me is thy release,
    In me thou shalt have peace
    In me thou shalt have peace


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