Bearing One Another’s Burdens, Not Fixing Them

Sitting With People is Simple, And Yet It’s Not.

Ali Kjergaard / 4.21.21

“Just tell me if you want me to stay tonight too,” she said. “I can totally do that.” In a moment of intense pain, praying that what stretched before him would pass from him, Christ asked his disciples to stay awake and pray with him. They could not do it. They continually fell asleep, leaving him alone in the pain by himself. He only wanted them to be with him. He wasn’t asking for solutions, for them to rescue him from the path before him. He just wanted his disciples to sit with him, be with him.

I bit my lip. I did want her to be with me another night, but I was scared to say that. I wouldn’t be fun to be around. I was melancholy. Sure, I was trying my best to stay upbeat and positive, glossing over the pain, but in reality I just felt guilty and embarrassed that my friends were worried about me. She’d stayed over at my house so many times. They’d been fun nights, sleepovers with a bunch of our friends, staying up late, cooking brunch the next morning, parties. Nothing I could offer this time around. This was going to be just her sitting with me while I was hurting. An inconvenience to her schedule and routine, but I didn’t want to be by myself. I didn’t want to be alone with this pain. 

I desperately want to fix things. I want to take away hurt from those I love. If someone tells me a problem or a burden, I start seeking out a solution. “Is there something I can do to fix this? Can I alleviate this pain?” And sometimes this communicates to them that there is something they should be doing to fix their situation. Perhaps I am telling them I know better than they do and can solve this predicament. They need me to swoop in and “fix things.” The truth is, I don’t like being forced into the reality that, more often than not, there is nothing I can do. Their painful circumstance is out of my control, and I detest the reminder of my own meager humanity. I am not in control, and I cannot save them. 

When Christ was arrested, Peter leapt to his feet with a sword. He inflicted pain. He was willing to fight them off. “How brave of Peter!” I’ve thought. A man of action, he wasn’t going to let them take Christ without a fight. But he was chastised for it: “None of this.” As if the creator of the universe couldn’t defend himself if he chose to. Christ didn’t need a military to rise up and defend him. He doesn’t need us, but he chose us. Christ asked Peter to stay awake with him, but he couldn’t. And in a few hours he denied he had ever known Jesus. He should have just been willing to sit up with Jesus, pray beside him as his savior prayed.

I’ve been in moments when there isn’t much you can really do for a friend. They’re curled up next to you quietly sobbing, so you just hold them. There aren’t any words to offer that will make things better, so you sit beside them, feeling heartbroken by their cries. And all the while I chastise myself that I’m not superman and can’t save them from this situation. Sitting is presence, but it’s being willing to feel that pain with someone, it’s picking up a burden and holding it with them. 

Friendships aren’t about what I can offer and what I can fix for those I love. I often think, if I can just say the right thing when they’re in pain, if I can just do something to take away the pain, if I can take away the stress, that’s how I’ll be a good friend. I’m focused on solutions and checking the right boxes. But I know for me the times I’ve felt the most cared for were simply when people didn’t leave the room when I was in pain. A piece of me always wishes they would, just to save my pride. Who wants their pain on display? But there is always a deep relief to not being left alone with my thoughts. 

At the moments when we feel we are most unlovable, when we know we have nothing to offer anyone, and someone still makes the decision to sit with us, that is a powerful testament to love. I’m not lovable, but I’m loved. I recently flew out to be with the friend I mentioned in the beginning of this piece. She received a hard diagnosis and has experienced her life shift for a few months. Hearing the news of the diagnosis, I knew that this pain was out of my hands. There was nothing I could do to solve it, but I knew I wanted to be with her. Amidst physical and emotional pain, I wanted to just be there, to try to hold what pain I could. My presence wasn’t going to fix things, but I wanted to be there the way she’d been there for me even if it was just sitting in the pain. We’ve done a lot of this “just sitting” these past few months. Our friendship has been filled with moments of “just sitting.”

Sitting with people is simple, and yet it’s not. Lucy and Susan walk with Aslan to the Stone Table, until he tells them he must go it alone. But even to the Great Lion, their presence is comforting. I think of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane pleading with the disciples to sit up with him and pray with him. They won’t stop what is about to occur, but he wants them to be awake with him. When he’s on trial, when he’s in the worst physical and emotional pain, they flee. Peter denies him. We have a savior that modeled his ability to sit and grieve with people in the ways we fail one another and failed him. 

He wept at the death of Lazarus. He grieved alongside the sisters. After the resurrection, the disciples were in hiding, so Christ had to enter the room. They abandoned him, fearing for themselves, leaving him forsaken. But he didn’t abandon them in their fears. He came through locked doors and brought peace. He didn’t always calm the waves from the shore; sometimes he walked upon them to be with the disciples in the midst of the storm. He is really good at sitting with us and being close to us in our pain because it is a path he has walked, by himself. He knows what it is to carry a cross. 

When he appeared to the disciples after the resurrection, their hardest tasks were still before them. They would be persecuted. He didn’t remove the pain, but he entered into it. He doesn’t fix the pain in our lives, but he is with us in it, and perhaps that is the greatest thing we can give to each other. I like how Lewis puts it in God in the Dock: “Don’t say ‘it’s all very well for Him; He hasn’t got to live with them.’ He has. He is inside them as well as outside them. He is with them far more intimately and closely and incessantly than we can ever be.” The Almighty comes alongside us to hold our burdens with us. 

We want people to sit with us in our pain, and we are called to sit with others in theirs. “Bear with one another,” “if one part suffers, we all suffer,” “one mourns, we all mourn.” It’s what God does for us again and again, and it is what he modeled for us in human form. And he showed us that it’s okay to ask it of those around us.

“Just tell me if you want me to stay tonight, Ali,” she said. “I wouldn’t offer if I didn’t mean it.”

“Yes, please stay with me, friend,” I replied.

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