The Worthy Burden of Compassion
Why actions speak louder than words in the call to carry each other's burdens.
When I was 19 years old and a sophomore in college, I became pregnant. Unwed and unprepared, my world took a sudden turn down a radically different path. Overcome with shock and shame, I remember standing at the crossroads of my life with a major decision to make. These were my options:
Give the baby up for adoption
Have an abortion
Keep the baby and keep going
Truthfully, all of the above rolled through my mind. I felt burdened considering any of my options but realized very quickly that this multiple choice test had severe consequences for getting it wrong. But I made the decision to go through the journey of option C.That was 15 years ago, and though the years have passed, my feelings about that tender and painful time still evokes a deep passion within me.
The other day while driving through the heart of my southern Minnesota town I passed by the local Planned Parenthood and noticed a crowd gathered on the lawn outside the clinic. As I drove by I observed several bobbing signs and two camps of protesters. On one end, a few people were on their knees and appeared to be praying; On the other end I read a sign, waving in the wind, that read Keep your rosaries off my ovaries.
I drove by, quickly, and before I could absorb all that I was witnessing I felt my body burn flaming hot. Surprised at this feeling, I considered the emotion that had suddenly manifested itself onto the surface of my skin.
I recalled a time, about 6 months along in my pregnancy, when a client had stopped into the office where I was working. My baby bump just beginning to emerge and she stood there and looked at me, taking in my condition. Then without hesitation she lifted her finger, wagged it in my face, and said, “Tsk, Tsk, Tsk!”
I was devastated with more shame and more guilt. I have considered that moment over and over through the years and what I’ve come to realize is that in that moment she had as much of a choice as I had, six months before: Life or death. Proverbs 18:21 reminds us, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.” That woman chose to offer up the fruit of death. In her choice words she crushed a spirit that was already fragile.
Our words play a crucial role in each other’s lives. What I really needed in that critically vulnerable state was encouragement, a gentle touch. I needed someone who, instead of offering more noise to an already chaotic scene, could come alongside me and listen. What I really hoped for was the ability to buy some groceries or pay for my college books so I could finish my schooling.
In Galatians 6:2 Paul writes,“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” I doubt a few painted words waving in the wind or pointing our fingers towards a stone building have much of an impact on the Kingdom. It is possible, perhaps. However, the idea behind Paul’s words here suggest something entirely different.
If we, as followers of Christ, are to fulfill His established law then we ought to carry each other’s burdens. If I were to help an elderly woman carry her groceries from her car into her home, the first thing I would need to do is get close to her. If I truly wanted to help her I would have to go to her. I wouldn’t merely stand on her lawn and instruct her from afar on the proper technique for lifting her heavy bags from the vehicle, or chastise her for trying to carry to much or too little, and then stand by hoping she fared well enough to make it safely into her home. No! I would rush to her side, make sure she was sturdy and stable, then pick up and carry groceries on her behalf. Why? Because I am strong, capable, and have been given the ability to do so.
In the same way we ought to consider our approach towards the women, men and establishments that are in the crux of conflict. What could happen if we put down our bullhorns and step away from the grassy knoll? Instead, seek out alternative ways to draw near in love and companionship. Let’s offer ourselves up in relationship with no hidden agenda or strings attached. Each of us adopting a swallowed understanding that this is the difference in satisfying the work of Christ on behalf of the hurting and broken world around us.