Lately, I have been distracted by differences in people. I will be having a conversation with someone in which we agree, agree, agree and then BAM...we disagree. I thought we were the same, but we are different. Sometimes it's personality. Sometimes it is preferences or desires or opinions. Sometimes I think what they are doing is wrong and destructive. Suddenly, I feel isolated. Maybe this sounds extreme, but you can easily see this play out in how we group off with people who are similar to ourselves into finger-pointing factions in politics or even within a church. How am I supposed to live with people who are so different from me?
I was struck this week with the answer when I was reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Life Together. He quoted Galatians 6:2, "Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ." He explains, "It is only when he is a burden that another person is really a brother and not merely an object to be manipulated. The burden of men was so heavy for God Himself that he had to endure the cross...It is the fellowship of the Cross to experience the burden of the other. If one does not experience it, the fellowship he belongs to is not Christian." I have always interpreted "burdens" as problems people might have that can be fixed, so we can then move on. However, Bonhoeffer expands the definition -
"It is first of all, the freedom of the other person...that is a burden to the Christian...The freedom of the other person includes all that we mean by a person's nature, individuality, endowment. It also includes his weaknesses and oddities, which are such a trial to our patience, everything that produces frictions, conflicts, and collisions among us."
So, I am to give each person freedom to be themselves. But what if they are doing something I think is wrong? Bonhoeffer goes even further -
"We may suffer the sins of our brother; we do not need to judge. This is a mercy for the Christian; for when does sin ever occur in the community that he must not examine and blame himself for his own unfaithfulness in prayer and intercession, his lack of brotherly service, of fraternal reproof and encouragement, indeed, for his own personal sin and spiritual laxity, by which he has done injury to himself, the fellowship, and the brethren?"
And this is where I get to Memorial Day. This morning I was reminded of one of the greatest human "burden bearers" of our society - the soldier. The soldier bears our burden of protection and freedom (even unto death). The soldier doesn't ever say to me, "You are too different from me and you get on my nerves. So, I am not going to bear your burden any longer." He may even disagree with the politics of the mission, but he bears our burden fully. However, even as the soldier bears our burden, he is not alone. Soldiers don't live and work in isolation. So "he who is bearing others knows that he himself is being borne, and only in this strength can he go on bearing."
Unfortunately, Christians are better known for identifying with the "fighting" aspect of the soldier than the "burden bearing". To be fair, I know that there a lot of Christians out there who are bearing huge burdens without any fanfare or media coverage. But I am much more likely to be found in the "finger-pointing" camp than the "burden bearing" camp. So, I will isolate this question to myself. How would my world be different if I was known as a "burden bearer"? Today, I am thankful for the soldiers who have shown me the possibility of that which seems impossible. Thank you for bearing my burdens, and thank you for inspiring me to take steps to do the same for others.