Editor's note: This is the latest installment of a faith-based column written by local pastors on a rotating basis.
"Bear one another's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). This verse has been going through my mind often these past few months. Perhaps this is because there are just so many obvious burdens around us. We are grappling with the realities of living in a world with COVID-19. Our senior citizens often are confined to their homes or care facilities with limited social interaction. Our small businesses and restaurants are struggling to figure out how they will make payroll and follow ever-changing guidelines. Teachers and parents alike are anxiously awaiting plans for the school year; the stress of the unknown is insurmountable. Medical professionals and assisted living staff are trying to respond to many needs with limited resources. The pandemic uncovered racial disparities. Recent deaths of people who are Black fuel debates about racial justice, discrimination and inequities. This has “front and center” in our daily lives. For many people of color, these conversations speak to daily burdens and hardships they bear.
When surrounded by so much pain and suffering, it is easy to just want to “turn it off” and “tune out.” It is easy to start blaming each other for our hardships and forming “camps” based on these elements of blame.
This, however, is not what we are called to do. As Christians, God calls us to “bear one another’s burdens” in all times and, especially, during difficult times. As things continue to “open up” how do we, as Christians, be sure to spend our time and resources remembering senior citizens in our community who often cannot experience the freedoms many of us are enjoying? How can we, as Christ followers, support our businesses and restaurants in safe manners? How can we be supportive of our teachers, parents and essential workers? How do we work with safety professionals and law enforcement to build bridges, understanding and a more just reality for all involved? For those of us who are Christians and White, it can be easy to become defensive in conversations about race or assume that it is an issue that does not affect us. However, when we do not address issues of racism, we allow people of color to bear the burdens of racism alone. Our communities are not true reflections of God’s love when we allow racism and prejudices to exist. When we “tune out” of conversations about racism, we, as Christians, are saying, “Your burden is not one I am willing to bear.”
You might be thinking to yourself, “I have enough of my own burdens to deal with right now, let alone thinking about anyone else’s issues.” Indeed, there are days and times when we can only handle what is right in front of us and in our own personal lives. However, I doubt this is true for all of us, and it certainly is not true for any of us all of the time. One of the great “holy mysteries” of our faith is that, somehow, when we carry each other’s burdens, all of our burdens become lighter and easier to manage.
July is a month when we talk a great deal about freedom. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a Lutheran pastor and professor who lived in Nazi Germany. He and other allies worked to bring down Hitler, and, consequently, Bonhoeffer was imprisoned and killed in a German concentration camp. Bonhoeffer noted, “Being freed means ‘being free for the other,’ because the other has bound me to him. Only in relationship with the other am I free.”
As Christians, we celebrate that we are freed from death and destruction in an eternal sense so we can face all of the forms of death, destruction, pain, and despair that surround us daily. How can we live out the truth that we are “free for the other?” How can we better “bear one another’s burdens” today?
The Rev. Jeanette McCormick is pastor at Worthington's First Lutheran Church.