Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.
Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.
In her raw book (Option B) about grief after the sudden loss of her husband, current Facebook chief operating officer and bestselling author Sheryl Sandberg writes of the many classic experiments on stress that have been done over the decades. People were asked to do tasks that required concentration (like puzzles) while being blasted with loud sounds at strange intervals. Blood pressure would rise, participants would begin sweating, and their ability to perform these tasks declined. In order to reduce anxiety, researches provided a button in the room that the participants could push that would make the noises stop.
As expected, the button did help them stay calmer, make less mistakes, and become less irritated. Here’s the catch:
None of the participants actually pressed the button.
What made the difference in their distress? Simply knowing that the button was there and they could get relief if needed. Participants were able to handle the stress if they knew that there was another option- even if they didn’t use it. It shocked researchers. The presence of the button made all the difference.
More than we know.
Even when we don’t use it.
It’s like that when we are going through hard times. The stress of a difficult season or the strain of a major loss feels like too much of a weight to bear. The thick fog of depression can leave someone feeling acutely alone. The overwhelming season of child-raising can bring massive exhaustion. The fear of an unknown future can be debilitating. The struggle of work stress can feel hopelessly suffocating.
But we have a button.
The calling of God’s Church is to be a people who literally bear each other’s burdens. We offer buttons for each other in times of pain. No, we cannot take away another’s pain, heartache, or suffering. But we can do something. We can sit with a friend. We can buy a cup of coffee. We can watch the kids. We can write a card. We can let them know they’re not alone and they can call us if they need anything.
And here’s the fascinating thing: Sometimes knowing that the button exists is enough to make a difference. Even if we make ourselves available to lend a hand or hang out and someone doesn’t take us up on it, there is still power in communicating care. There is still impact from knowing that we are not alone. So don’t sit back and say, “well, there’s not much I can do, so I’ll just stay silent.” We may not always know how to reach out to each other, but that doesn’t mean we do nothing. We still find ways to “show up” in our bumbling, imperfect ways.
God has also given us a "button to push” in times of stress and pain: the promise of relational presence and peace, accessed through the simple act of prayer.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7)
To be clear: That’s a button we should push regularly. The peace of God in the midst of chaotic situations is one of the most beautiful things a person can experience in this life. We've seen this peace in hundreds of ways over the past few years in our community. The beauty of it is that when our hearts become settled with the peace of Jesus’ love, we are in a far better position to practice empathy toward each other. Indeed, it will then flow naturally. A heart formed by Jesus will necessarily be a heart postured toward others.
Maybe today is a good day to ask these questions:
-Am I living deeply enough with God to have empathy for others?
-What buttons can I provide for others around me who might be struggling silently?
-What simple note/text/call can I make that would communicate love and support?
God, grow our hearts of compassion so that we may offer your love and support to our brothers and sisters. Shape us with eyes to see each person, and give us courage to do something.