These days we are looking for ways to serve. We want to feed the poor, care for the sick or help the elderly. Though these are beneficial ways to assist folks, there is another way to serve we often overlook. Another way to serve that is not only helpful, but healing is to become a burden bearer, a holy listener for the experiences of others. People need to be heard; a need that is especially acute in this pandemic. During this time of confusion, distress, fear, and anxiety we seek to share what we are experiencing. We desire for others to know where we are and how we are processing this situation.
To listen to the burden of others is not as easy as it sounds. In our culture, listening has been modeled as a means to solve problems or achieve solutions so that pain or sorrow is no longer a burden. As altruistic as this is, it is not the experience the lamenter needs. It seems counter intuitive to hear a burden, to listen to their troubles and not offer the lamenter a way out of their problems. But when we move from listening to fix to listening to bear the weight, we enter into listening with love.
Psalm 68: 19 tells us that “daily he bears our burdens.” How does God bear our burdens? When we tell them to him. Yes, God knows before we speak, but we have a need to put our pain into words. We have a need to share with God how we are feeling and what we are thinking. This process of telling him becomes a process of discovery as we not only know ourselves better, but know God better. And in a sense, we offer our pain to him believing that as our burden bearer he knows the next step if only we will listen to his direction.
We are also called to hear and hold the burden of others. But if we offer the quick and seemingly easy answer to the problem, we truncate God’s work. When we practice listening as a weight bearing, burden bearing discipline it changes the focus of our listening. We no longer listen to fix, but instead listen to love. The listening process becomes a way to align what we do with what God does as we enter into God’s work and together, we listen for God’s solution. As we remove our desire to fix or solve the problem, we open the door for God’s answer, God’s timing and God’s training. Then burden bearing becomes burden sharing when we listen without attempting to solve the issues of another.
When our listening is followed by silence, we allow space for God to step in. And as odd as it sounds the transfer of the weight from one person to another occurs during the silence of our listening. The silence becomes an invitation for the lamenter to go deeper, to explore more of the pain in order to discover the buried hurt that needs healing. Words, as good as they appear to be, can distract us from knowing God’s next step. When we are silent, we become discoverers of what God is doing and how he will respond.
In the days ahead people will have stories to tell, burdens to share. They will need to be heard. They will need to share the weight of pain, of confusion, of sorrow with one another. Can you enter into this listening space, this sacred space and see this as valuable a service as feeding the poor or caring for the sick? Can you see listening as soul restoring work, work that you do with God, not without him? For this is one of the highest ways we express his grace and love.