One of the things that has really hit home for me during my time serving with the Diaconate has been the importance of carrying one another’s burdens. Galatians 6:2, which says that we are fulfilling the law of Christ in doing so, reinforces how seriously we are to take this edict. My experience has taught me that in order to be able to carry another’s burdens, I have to be rooted in the Word, able to really understand the other person’s context, and then be able to allow others to speak into my life as willingly as I extend support to another.
I am now very keenly aware that my best intentions and best efforts will not cause others to make meaningful changes unless their hearts have been transformed. That is why it’s so important to continually be brought back to the fact that only God is able to change people’s hearts, but that he may use us as the instrument to effect that change.
Without God, I feel frustrated that my efforts only translate into temporary fixes and I am anxious, feeling as though responsibility for improving the situation falls squarely on my shoulders. With God, I am at peace in the knowledge that God gives us guidelines for how to serve and if we are faithful to them and him, he will use our efforts toward the restoration of lives (even when that is not immediately apparent).
Before I can shoulder someone’s burden, I also have to discern what it is they’re carrying. Financial concerns, strong emotions, and frayed relationships often point to a deeper issue. Something I’ve found to be tremendously effective while serving with the Diaconate has been rather simple: Give someone an outlet to be heard. So often, people I’ve served as a deacon have shared that what they’ve most appreciated about my Diaconate partner and me—as a team working with someone who has approached the Diaconate for assistance—is just providing a safe space for them to share.
I think it runs counter to the mindset so many of us New Yorkers possess, where we want to analyze the problem, determine an end goal, and then come up with actionable (and measurable) next steps that can be implemented. While not necessarily a bad framework, people are not projects to be managed. I have found that it takes some investing in getting to know an individual—their beliefs and goals, hopes and dreams, values and desires—before I can figure out how to help carry their burden. And if I am successful in doing that, I’ve found it’s amazing how empowering that space can be to give the individual the room to figure out for themselves what they need to do next. This is not an easy task, but we have a model to look to: God who came to live amongst us, who understands our weaknesses and every one of our struggles.
Finally, when requesting the privilege of being able to speak into the lives of others, I constantly remind myself that no real relationship is a one-way channel. Something that I’ve tried to put into practice based on the advice of more seasoned deacons and deaconesses is to not just pray for someone who asks for prayer. Rather, pray with someone who requests it.
While it’s not appropriate in a Diaconate context for me to shift the focus to me, I do try to be open and vulnerable about challenges in my own life because I’m not someone who has it all together. I’m a broken person serving another broken person purely by the grace of God. As such, I seek out and maintain a core group of relationships (my wife, my fellowship group, and the Diaconate staff and members) who lovingly speak the truth into my life, enabling me to walk and not grow weary, helping to carry my burdens as I seek also to carry the burdens of others.