bearing burdens: another kind of weight training

TODAY MY FRIEND came out to his parents. They were less than happy. I don’t quite know how to process this. I’m not gay. I have not felt pressured to hide my sexuality from my parents. Part of me thinks it’s not my stuff to process, not another thing I need to add to my bag of concerns (which, by the way, is getting heavier by the day). Part of me wants to leave it at “Thank you for being vulnerable with us” like it’s just another story. But I can’t.

First off, a story is hardly ever “just” a story. It is a glimpse into a person’s worldview, thinking and character, an invitation to enter into their reality and even be a part of it. Just as important, my friend wasn’t just being vulnerable with us, the people who’ve known him for less than a year. He had been vulnerable with his parents, the people who’ve known him his whole life yet did not know a big part of it until today, 23 years later. Not only that, but he had to tell them something he knew they wouldn’t approve, let alone support.

One thing that makes life both interesting and painful is the fact one’s experiences are never too far off from another’s and yet are never quite the same, leaving one to dangle between solidarity and solitude. We float back and forth between “I know exactly how you feel” to “No one understands me”, all the while thinking, “Why me!” Amidst the chaos, another voice suggests — no — commands:Bear one another’s burdens.“*

It is the call to shake the need for comprehension and embrace the one in need. It is the call to listen to the person, not just the issue or even the heart of the issue. While I can’t fully understand the significance of coming out, I can relate to the anxiety of confronting my parents. I can’t relate to the experience of hiding my sexual orientation, but I have felt confusion, guilt and freedom, all at the same time, in keeping a relationship secret from my parents. Acknowledging what does or doesn’t resonate with me helps me be a better listener and supporter of my friend. But there must be more: empathy must lead to action.

I care about my friend. And so I’m staying up late to write this — willingly, of course. But I can’t bear it alone, just as he cannot. A 50-pound suitcase doesn’t get any lighter when passed from one person to another; unless the other person is a body builder, lifting the suitcase up the stairs will still be strenuous activity. But if the two people take different ends of the suitcase and walk up the stairs together, the task will be easier and probably more bearable than if either person had done it individually. In the same way the biblical command to carry one another’s burdens is not license to dump one’s issues onto another person or to soak up everyone else’s problems. Rather it reminds us of the communal essence of the Gospel. It asks me to make room in my bag of concerns. The call to bear each other’s burdens is relief for our fragility and permission for our reality.

I recognize that my friend had a BIG conversation today. I trust him when he says he’s relieved, but  know he’ll continue to struggle as he works through his identity and hears varying responses from within the Church. I often don’t know what to say, but I learn the words to speak as I spend time with him.

We all must carry our own loads, but we don’t have to carry them alone.

* Galatian 6:2 NRSV

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