Burden-bearing is a spiritual gifting which many possess but few know how to manage. Natural empaths, those of us who enter easily into the suffering of another, can become depressed and even cynical if we do not understand the nature of the gifting with which we were probably born.
To first identify if you are a burden bearer, ask yourself the following questions:
- Do you feel what others are feeling? Can you accurately identify others’ emotions, sometimes to the point where they feel you can practically read their minds?
- Do you find yourself unable to face people sometimes because you have a hard time closing yourself off to other people’s emotions?
- Can you walk into a public place and sense the emotions of the people around you, even people you don’t know?
- Do you have a lot of people in your life who exhaust you?
The Sandfords, giants in the arena of inner healing ministry, define burden bearing this way: “Burden-bearing is predicated upon the capacity of our spirit to identify with another, to empathize, to share and shoulder emotional loads. In the same way that two physically can carry a log which one alone cannot lift, burden-bearing takes one end of a load and so enables a brother to survive and function. Whereas two must be in proximity to lift something physically, burden-bearing requires no spatial nearness. We can feel, identify, share and pray about one another’s burdens at whatever distance we may happen to be.” (Letting Go Of Your Past, p 171).
Paul is referencing burden-bearing when he says, [We are] always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death works in us, but life in you.” (2 Corinthians 4:10-12)
That is, burden bearers carry the pain and suffering of others in themselves, but often to little or no avail. The truth is that most burden bearers are woefully ineffective, in part because they have never been taught how to manage or use this spiritual gift. I think I could possibly say that about most spiritual gifts, but burden-bearing can cause a lot of unnecessary pain for the uninitiated.
So if you read those four questions and found your spirit leaping in agreement, if you answered a vehement yes to those questions, then I have some relief for you. You see, your role in carrying those burdens is meant to be brief. Bearing another’s emotional load is never a permanent assignment because we are not Christ. Jesus, when He died on the cross, took on the burden of all the sin in the world, all the pain, all the suffering.
As for burden bearers, we get to identify with Christ for a moment in time, but our job is not to take on other’s pain. That would only result in a joyless life, which, unfortunately, many burden bearers have. Think of burden-bearing as a temp job. Someone has a load they can’t possibly carry. In fact, it is so heavy, they can’t access God. Their suffering has temporarily dimmed the light of their spirit and God feels far away.
This is where we come in. We lift whatever burden we are tasked with and then… wait for it… we give it up to the One who already died for it. What this looks like in prayer is when we see someone suffer, feel someone suffer, we understand that we are participating in the death of Christ. We ask Him to draw that pain from the sufferer, through us, and onto the cross.
I can’t tell you how many times I have seen God lighten the intense emotional weight that was smothering the spiritual life out of someone.
I am often a burden bearer for my husband. He carries a lot of heavy responsibility and has known some great sorrows in his life. I can feel his feelings too easily, probably. What makes it worse is that we are married, so my sense of him is greater than with anyone else. For the first couple of years, I often felt desperate. I took it upon myself to pull him out of it.
Now I realize that is not my responsibility at all. After I learned to ask the Lord to draw his suffering that landed in me onto the cross, we both felt relief. It happens far less frequently these days, but I don’t even have to make a big deal out of it. I feel heaviness in my spirit and put it on the cross. We both feel an increase in God’s presence.
But here is the key. We are merely conduits. The death that works in us, but life in others is not meant to permanently rest on our shoulders. And this is where burden bearers become the over-burdened.
So I want to include a list of things to consider as a burden bearer. After all, I have lived with this, like the rest of you, since I was born. Handling this particular spiritual gift so that you are not harmed and so that you do not harm others is crucial to the good stewardship of your calling. So here goes:
- Make sure you deal with your trauma. If you can’t release the pain onto the cross, it isn’t theirs. It’s yours. Sometimes burden bearers are so used to feeling the emotions of others, they fail to identify and deal with their own.
- Merging isn’t burden bearing. Merging, or over-identifying with another, is just bad boundaries. If you can’t tell where you end and another person begins, you may not be a burden bearer. You just might not have a clearly defined identity. Worse, you may be a bit of an emotional vampire.
- Burden bearers can be manipulative. After all, you can read the emotions of others so easily. Surrender that power or you will find that instead of God’s love being shed abroad in the hearts of others, you are abusive. Burden bearers often carry loads of hurt they have not let go, so being manipulative seems like a safety maneuver. However, controlling others only leads to fear and broken relationships.
- Seek the heart of God. Burden bearers often feel like an orphan staring in through the window of a happy home. God’s will for you is joy, not an endless recital of this world’s miseries. I feel closest to God’s heart in nature. Find your happy place in Him and go there often. And by the way, God is in a good mood.
- Learn to close up shop. Learn how to stay inside yourself and stay out of others unless God is specifically inviting you in. Jesus didn’t go everywhere, heal everyone, and work without ceasing. Burden bearers need to learn to take Sabbaths as well as just be who they are without taking field trips into the identities of others. Stay put unless called to go. Your life will be better for it, and the world will be no worse off.
After I learned to deal with this gift appropriately, my life became so much more manageable. I had emotional margin for the first time in my life. It is humbling to realize that the misuse of this gift can cause so much unnecessary misery for myself and others , but now when I am called to bear in my own body for a short time, the suffering of others, it is a joy and a privilege. It is no longer an unbearable task that leaves me heartbroken and despairing.
The Sanders’ broke new ground in inner healing. Their books are great. Their courses are even greater.
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