It’s a Blessing to Bear Your Friend’s Burden

Knowing you are not alone makes all the difference.

Traumas and tragedies are hardly the whole of most people’s lives, and many people are blessedly free right now of major struggles. But over the course of a life, eventually the pain and the losses mount up. And because we are social animals, we are not meant to face them alone, in isolation. When we do, hopelessness grows.

 

People who are struggling with depression or other difficulties often assume that sharing their story with friends imposes a burden on them. In fact, the opposite is usually true: From a true friend’s perspective, being entrusted with the cares and burdens of another is a privilege. It’s an opportunity to dispense generosity, and a sign and symbol of trust. And when both people share with each other more of their inner worlds, more of their sorrow and suffering, the friendship is strengthened. In the words of the proverb, friendship doubles our joy and divides our grief.

In a sermon at the National Cathedral on February 17, Michael Gerson—a Washington Post columnist; a graduate of Wheaton College, one of the leading evangelical colleges in America; and one of my closest friends—revealed that he was recently hospitalized for depression. It’s been a condition he’s struggled with since his 20s, but recently his situation has worsened.

“I would encourage anyone with this malady to keep a journal,” Mike said. “At the bottom of my recent depression, I did a plus and minus, a pro and con, of me. Of being myself. The plus side, as you’d imagine, was short. The minus side included the most frightful clichés: ‘You are a burden to your friends.’  ‘You have no future.’ ‘No one would miss you.’ The scary thing is that these things felt completely true when I wrote them. At that moment, realism seemed to require hopelessness.” He added:

But then you reach your breaking point—and do not break. With patience and the right medicine, the fog in your brain begins to thin. If you are lucky, as I was, you encounter doctors and nurses who know parts of your mind better than you do. There are friends who run into the burning building of your life to rescue you, and acquaintances who become friends. You meet other patients, from entirely different backgrounds, who share your symptoms, creating a community of the wounded. And you learn of the valor they show in lonely rooms.

Over time, you begin to see hints and glimmers of a larger world outside the prison of your sadness. The conscious mind takes hold of some shred of beauty or love.

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