Dear Dr B,
I have several family members and friends who have chronic illness and pain. I also work in ministry with many people who are going through a number of difficult struggles. It’s just my nature to want to do whatever I can to help. I pray for them, but I have to tell you that I also tend to carry their burdens with them and allow their struggles to really get me down. How can I empathize, support, and give Godly advice without suffering with them, feeling like I have to solve their problems, and having it negatively impact me?
First let me say that I love your compassionate nature. The body of Christ, and the church as a whole, needs more individuals like you who are not so concerned about having the right thing to say, but are willing to be a presence in someone’s storm. On behalf of all those you have ministered to, let me say thank you.
As part of the body of Christ we are called to help carry each others’ burdens. To your question, however, we should guard against “false burden bearing” which is essentially taking responsibility for something that is not ours to carry. Or trying to fix or resolve a situation that isn’t ours to remedy. This can happen when we care deeply for someone.
Compassion for another’s suffering is not bad. Jesus was greatly moved with compassion. But when we, as you said, carry their burdens with them and begin to be more invested in solving their problems than they are, that may be a sign of having crossed from compassion to false burden bearing.
My recommendation is that you first pray that God will protect your heart and mind. Even in my private practice, I cannot allow myself to get too deeply entrenched in the emotional suffering of each of my patients or I would not be effective in helping any of them.
Then pray about who and how to help. Even a good therapist cannot treat everyone who walks in their door. And a good mentor cannot mentor an unlimited number of individuals at one time. There just isn’t enough time or emotional bandwidth available. So seek God’s direction about who to help, while guarding against taking responsibility for their situation.
If the Lord wants you to help, pray about how. And ask for His timing. We often get in a hurry to help a person out of their situation, while God is actually using their trial to help teach them something.
The truth is that the only one who should be carrying our burdens for us is the Lord. The best way we can help others is to point them back to the Lord, while not carrying or assuming responsibility for their burdens.
Even when God lays someone on your heart to pray for or to come along side in some way, ultimately the end result remains God’s responsibility. We just get the privilege of partnering with Him.
Because of Him,
(If you have a question you’d like Dr. B to answer, contact her here now. Your name and identity will be kept confidential.)
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