It’s a blessing to bear your friend’s burden

We all face struggles of one kind or another: It might be a marriage that is breaking apart; alienation from children, siblings, or parents; the death of a loved one; a frightening medical diagnosis; chronic pain; sexual abuse; the loss of a job; financial stress; or falling short of personal and professional ambitions. “Given the vulnerability of man and the pitiless storm of the world, tragedy is bound to happen,” in the words of the novelist and theologian Frederick Buechner.

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.

The temptation during times of trial can be to withdraw, in part because we don’t want to appear vulnerable. There’s a natural fear that people will think less of us and might begin to look at us mainly through the prism of our struggles. But the cost of keeping our struggles in the shadows almost always outweigh the benefits. As one friend who has faced his own “dark night of the soul” put it to me, “Isolated people chew over their problems too much and distort proportion. Losing a piece of paper can seem like the universe is against you, and you think you have brain damage. That kind of thinking can only be prevented by some outside influence.”