Back when I was a kid ( the preacher’s kid), a lady in our church would call my parents at least twice EVERY DAY to discuss her latest ailment (none of them too serious). She would talk and talk about what doctor she should go to and what the doctor that she recently went to said. My parents would listen patiently knowing she was lonely and then politely end the call because they did have things to do.
Sometimes I would be home alone and she would talk to me – a teen who had no clue how to help. Trust me. But my lack of knowledge didn’t seem to bother her and she talked on and on. The family legend part of the story, however, is the night my brother was home alone and answered the phone. Immediately she started in on her list of ills. As a twelve-year-old, Roger had little interest, but the lady just continued talking. Finally, Roger put the phone down, made himself a sandwich, poured himself a glass of milk and came back to the phone … where she was still talking. She didn’t even realize he was gone.
This is an extreme case, but we all have people whom we’d like to help, but realize we can only do so much. The constant listening (often to the same problems over and over) can drain us emotionally (and sometimes physically if we’re putting off what we’re supposed to be doing and then need to catch up later),
Being the I-can-solve-your-problem-friend happens to teens sometimes more so than adults, because teens are under the impression that they can solve someone’s serious problem if they care, listen, and “give advice.” Adults are often more apt to get help from a qualified church staff member or other professional source when they realize the problem is beyond their capabilities.
But teens hesitate to get help because —
— I promised I wouldn’t tell anyone.
— She talks to me and said she wouldn’t talk to an adult.
— He says adults only judge and don’t help anyhow.
I’ve, unfortunately, witnessed teens refusing to tell an adult about their friend’s problem and the results have been disastrous.
We need to teach our teens that yes, they should be a listening ear, yes, they should keep confidences, and yes, they should help … up to a point.
In the past month or so I have talked to teens in two very different situations that expressed to me their desire to help a hurting friend. At the same time, they feel frustrated because they don’t think they’re truly helping.
And I explained it like this.
Galatians 6:2 reads: Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
Say, you’re sitting on your front porch doing your homework when you see your elderly neighbor come home from the grocery store. You notice she has several bags of food, so you jump off the porch, run across the yard and carry the groceries into the house for her. You gently put them on her kitchen table, she thanks you, and you go back to your homework.
The thing is, you DID bear her burdens. You picked up her heavy bags of groceries and carried them into the house, but the groceries did NOT BECOME your groceries. They still belonged to the lady.
That’s what it means to bear one another’s burdens. We can bear someone else’s burdens, but that does NOT mean they become our burdens.
In fact, Paul continues writing about burdens and says in verse 5, For each will have to bear his own load. We can’t do that for someone else.
In talking to teens who have a tendency to get immersed in the problems of those around them, or when we ourselves get immersed in someone’s problem to the point where it affects our own families, job, or if we find that the situation is beyond our expertise … remember ,,,
1. Yes, listening to someone, showing kindness, care and love is important and mandatory as believers.
2. No, the other person’s burdens don’t become ours … they’re not our groceries.
3. Yes, we need to pull in someone with the knowledge and training to help.
4. No (teens), you do not always have the ability to help a friend. Even if the problem was told in confidence, if it’s hurting the friend or other people, you need to get assistance.
5. Yes, as Paul wrote, everyone has to bear his own load. We can’t do that for other people.
We have a responsibility to talk to our teens and give them guidelines on helping friends who come to them with a serious problem. We need to explain to them that they can help up to a point, but their friend’s burdens aren’t their burdens ,,,
… or, said another way, they aren’t your groceries.