Monday evening, during our small group fellowship, we discussed Galatians 6:1-6 and what is has to teach us about “bearing one another’s burdens”. Pastor Paul’s post on March 4th gives some great insights on the subject. Later that night I was reading from “The Imitation of Christ” by Thomas a Kempis and found the following entry titled “Of Bearing with the Faults of Others”.
Those things which a man cannot amend in himself or in others, he ought patiently to bear, until God shall otherwise ordain. Bethink thee that perhaps it is better for thy trial and patience, without which our merits are but little worth. Nevertheless thou oughtest, when thou findeth such impediments, to beseech God that He would vouchsafe to sustain thee, that thou be able to bear them with a good will.
2. If one who is once or twice admonished refuse to hearken, strive not with him, but commit all to God, that His will may be done and His honour be shown in His servants, for He knoweth well how to convert the evil unto good. Endeavour to be patient in bearing with other men’s faults and infirmities whatsoever they be, for thou thyself also hast many things which have need to be borne with by others. If thou canst not make thine own self what thou desireth, how shalt thou be able to fashion another to thine own liking. We are ready to see others made perfect, and yet we do not amend our own shortcomings.
3. We will that others be straitly corrected, but we will not be corrected ourselves. The freedom of others displeaseth us, but we are dissatisfied that our own wishes shall be denied us. We desire rules to be made restraining others, but by no means will we suffer ourselves to be restrained. Thus therefore doth it plainly appear how seldom we weigh our neighbour in the same balance with ourselves. If all men were perfect, what then should we have to suffer from others for God?
4. But now hath God thus ordained, that we may learn to bear one another’s burdens, because none is without defect, none without a burden, none sufficient of himself, none wise enough of himself; but it behoveth us to bear with one another, to comfort one another, to help, instruct, admonish one another. How much strength each man hath is best proved by occasions of adversity: for such occasions do not make a man frail, but show of what temper he is.
Thomas wrote these words in the 15th century, but they remain instructive today. I appreciate the way Thomas a Kempis reminds us that we had best learn to bear the burdens of others, because, most certainly, we need them to bear ours. When I know someone loves me, I am much more willing to hear them when they speak – even when they say things difficult to accept. On the flip side of that, I am immediately defensive and deaf to the words of those I feel are judging me from a perch of self-righteousness. The church should be a place of safety; a place where we can bare our hearts to each other without fear of recrimination. When we see our fellow disciples struggle it should inflame our compassion, not our condemnation. As both Scripture and Thomas a Kempis point out, there may indeed come a time when, in extreme cases, separation is required. Even then, however, we do so with the words “but for the grace of God go I” upon our lips, and in hope of reconciliation. It is not, thankfully, our responsibility to change people. It is God who “knoweth well how to convert the evil unto good” and we must never endeavor to do what only God is able to do. We are called, not change people into what we want them to be, but to love them as they are.