Burden vs. Blessing
Jesus replied, “And you experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them.”
I watched a movie a few months ago called “The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio”, starring Julianne Moore and Woody Harrelson. It’s the true story, set in the 1950’s and 1960’s, of a couple who has 10 children. In order to help support her family, Julianne Moore’s character enters numerous writing contests, which she won frequently, winning all kinds of prizes that helped keep the bills paid and food on the table. Besides the cost of raising 10 children, a large part of their income unfortunately went towards her husband’s alcohol addiction. Julianne Moore’s character keeps a strong front and happy face through most of the movie despite her husband’s verbal abuse and the chaos his drinking sometimes brings to the family. At one point, though, she seeks out the advice of her priest to tell her what she should do about his drinking because of its effect on their family. The priest admonishes her that if she kept a happier home, her husband wouldn’t need to drink. Of course, this was in the 1950’s or ‘60’s, a different era when addictions were much less understood and women’s roles were much different. Our spiritual leaders may not dispense such advice today (at least I would hope not!), but I have to wonder, how often do we as the body of Christ get caught up in the “rules” of Christianity and “load people down with burdens they can hardly carry”? Do we choose our words prayerfully and carefully, or do we lock ourselves into a rigid style of thinking that leaves no room for grace or compassion? When people come to us, broken, hurting, angry and lost, do we seek God before we open our mouths, or do we recite some trite cliché? Do we encourage or do we quote rules from scripture in order to set the person straight? Do our words bring encouragement, healing and life? Or do they bring condemnation, discouragement and frustration?
Certainly there are times when we all need to be held accountable or corrected. But when people come to us with all their mess and they’re trying to figure out what in the world they are going to do with it, I think the challenge for us is to respond in a way that encourages. In the above scripture, Jesus is reprimanding spiritual leaders for loading people down with burdens they can’t carry and then refusing to help. I think our challenge as the body of Christ is to do the opposite; to help the person carry their load and point them to the One who is not only able to sort out their mess but wants to do so. Most people, when they are in the midst of their mess, are going to struggle with embarrassment or shame about taking it to God. Our job is not to say, “shame on you” but to let them know, God is still crazy about you! He will use all your mess and turn it into something good for you and His Kingdom. Scolding hurting people only adds to the weight on their shoulders. The one thing that can keep people moving forward when they are hurting is hope. We have the opportunity to be living reminders that when God is involved, there is always hope! We might accomplish this through offering a listening ear, teaching, mentoring, befriending, or praying with that person. Sometimes God may call us to actually get involved and help that person work their problem out, but He will never call us to say “shame on you”, wag our finger at them or tell them God is going to punish them. You will probably hear me say this on this blog over and over again, but this life is about relationship; relationships with each other and relationship with God. A fear-based religion that is focused on following rules doesn’t change us from the inside out, but a passionate, loving relationship with God does. That’s the very relationship people are starving for when they’re lost! How incredible and humbling that God trusts us to lead them to the only relationship that can meet their needs.