Guest Post + Book Giveaway: Bearing One Another’s Burdens Doesn’t Mean Living All Of Their Emotions

{I’m delighted to welcome Sarah Cunningham to the blog today. Sarah has a new book out, and her publisher is generously giving away THREE copies of her book, The Well-Balanced World Changer. Read and comment by November 7 for your chance to win.}

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I learned just about everything you could possibly learn in church growing up. I learned about God and Jesus and, of course, the Holy Spirit, who I envisioned appeared kind of like Casper the Friendly Ghost. Only holier.

I learned to spell the word Christianity. And to spell it with superhero speed, thanks to that I-am-a-C, I-am-a-Ch song.

I learned how to lead a Sunday School class and how to facilitate a small group (which turned out to be suspiciously similar).

But there was one thing I didn’t learn in church. One incredibly significant thing that had huge implications on how I internalized and lived out my faith. How to manage my own emotions.

And the older I got, the more important this question seemed to be: If Christ was abiding in a person, what would their emotional rhythms look like? How would they show anger? How would they commit to making peace? How would they show emotional generosity? Authenticity? Restraint?

Since crossing from childhood to adulthood, my life has of course provided many, often messy opportunities to fill in those spiritual emotional blanks from my childhood.

Often, even though I learned the hard way, finding good emotional health just required a bit of fairly simple re-framing.

For example, along the way, I picked up this mantra: Insist on taking responsibility for yourself and insist on not taking responsibility for others.

I know. I know. It doesn’t sound incredibly profound, but the way it plays out can gift your life with so much freedom.

TAKING ON OTHER PEOPLE’S BURDENS

Perhaps, for example, you are a wife or a husband, a boyfriend or a girlfriend. And perhaps your life is hooked to a partner or even a friend who experiences a wide range of emotion. Who is even a little bit, dare I say it, moody.

At first you may take each of this person’s bad moods on with genuine seriousness. You might talk to them about it, you might make them dinner, you might encourage them to rest. You might feel so sincerely plagued by their state of be- ing that you carry their unhappiness around with you all day.

You might stay up late thinking about it, lose sleep and appetite over it, even cry tears over it!

But the older you get, the more you realize that choosing to do this is insane. Yes, encourage them. Send them cards. Make their favorite dessert. Wish them well! Laugh when they laugh, mourn when they mourn, and help them bear their burdens.

DON’T TRADE YOUR EMOTIONS FOR THEIRS

But for goodness’ sake, don’t replace your own identity or emotional state with theirs. What good does it do the world if you ship out your steadiness, your good feeling, your sanity in exchange for someone else’s rockiness, their bad feeling, their ill state of mind? Is the planet better off after you’ve added yet another unhappy person to it?

And how unfair and disproportionate is this! Is this really what God wants? That you must not only deal with your own bad days, but that you must also take on someone else’s? So you must have twice as many bad days as the next guy? If this is the case, I hope you don’t make too many close friends or your family doesn’t ever grow too large. You could get so busy living other people’s bad days that you would never have any unoccupied days left to be good!

Really? Is this what God wants? Instead of just mom being burdened by frustration or overcome with grief, now it is mom and dad struggling under the weight of it? Two parents out of commission? Is this what is best for your children?

Don’t mishear me. I am not saying don’t help others bear their burdens. I’m saying don’t give up your right to manage their burdens differently than they choose to! No rule says that when you bear their burdens you can’t be smarter or wiser about how you hold them. No rule says you have to mourn as they do, that you must let their grief consume your life. Bearing someone else’s burden does not mean handling your

emotions just like they do. It does not cancel out your charge to employ what you know.

You are not responsible for how they manage your emotions, but you are still responsible for how you manage yours. You have been called to rejoice—to set your mind on whatever is noble. To trust that God will work out with them what is between him and them and that the one mediator needed in this scenario is not you.

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This excerpt was taken from Sarah Cunningham’s most recent book, The Well Balanced World Changer: A Field Guide To Staying Sane While Doing Good, which is available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever books are sold. Sarah is an author, idea junkie and Chief Servant to a four year old Emperor and his one year old Chief of Staff. She does freelance work organizing conferences and supporting publishers while drinking chai in Michigan.  You can also find great shareable content at her book’s Pinterest page or contribute your own life lessons on social media using the hashtag #worldchangerbook.

7 thoughts on “Guest Post + Book Giveaway: Bearing One Another’s Burdens Doesn’t Mean Living All Of Their Emotions

  1. I just stepped out of the boat & moved to Cambodia about 10 weeks ago with a heart to serve families & to see child trafficking eliminated. “The Well-Balanced World Changer” has been on my wish list & it would bless my face off to win a copy (in Kindle form if possible, please; shipping is a tad bit pricey.)

  2. Good points, Sarah. When I was first married, I thought (or felt) that my new husband was somehow responsible for my emotions . . . all of them! (And I had some very wacked out emotions, believe me.) Then I read a book (Boundaries in Marriage), and the authors pointed out that, no, my spouse ISN’T in charge of my emotional state. I looked up from my book and asked my husband, “Have you ever heard this before?!” He gave me that look, the one that’s worth a thousand words, that told me that he didn’t realize that I didn’t realize that he wasn’t “in charge” of me and my rapidly-changing mood swings or the management of them. That was up to me!

    This book sounds like an interesting read.

  3. As an Enneagram 9, I’ve had to fight my instincts and acquire a lot of tools for NOT doing the sort of thing described above. I’d love to read the book and get a fuller view of Sarah’s perspective on these things.

  4. To Andrew Gates: I get you. My husband is also Enneagram 9. I am a 3, so I am TRYING to learn how to actually be there for other people and be more loving. I feel like I miss so much with my one-track mind. Isn’t it interesting how different we are? “Bearing someone else’s burden does not mean handling your emotions just like they do. ” This helped me, for when things get “messy.”

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