Bearing Other People’s Burdens

Bearing Other People’s Burdens

I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church—Colossians 1:24 (RSV)

What I’m about to say may not be relevant to Paul’s statement in Colossians. I am clueless. I included the Colossians passage partly because it seems at least tangentially relevant to this essay—but mainly because it always seems cool to stick a Bible verse at the beginning of a teaching in order to gain readers’ attention. (Sorry ‘bout that.)

In actuality, I have almost zero biblical foundation for the following stories. My only justification for sharing them is that they happened. They’re true. The first anecdote involves an aggressive, vigorous spiritual assault that came close to killing me.


As I describe elsewhere on this website, God healed me instantly and permanently from depression a few weeks after I turned my life over to Jesus. Leading up to the event I’m about to share, I had not been even a teeny bit depressed for more than a quarter century.

For several months we had hosted “A,” a homeless bipolar alcoholic, in our basement. We loved him very much. He was a lovable, interesting, engaging individual—except for those times when either alcohol or brain dysfunction turned him into something else.

One afternoon, A told me he was very seriously contemplating suicide. I believed him, in large part because I had come to know him pretty well and I could read his moods and the subtleties of his thoughts. We had a very serious conversation about his killing himself. My spouse and I had rejoiced in the birth of our fifth child only months earlier; our children were all ten years old or younger. I made A promise that, if he did kill himself, he would go elsewhere to do it and would not do it in our house. He agreed, and I believed him. He was basically an honorable man.

At the end of that conversation, A and I prayed together (he was a believer). At the end of that prayer session, I asked God for a dispensation that I had requested only a handful of times before. I asked that he would grant me the privilege of bearing some of A’s depression. Having been healed from depression many years earlier, I felt I would be able to hand it over to Jesus—whereas A clearly was incapable of doing that.

Shortly after, of course, I totally forgot about that prayer.

The following afternoon, I was standing in my second-floor office in downtown Urbana, Illinois. My entrepreneurial efforts weren’t going particularly well. I began thinking about all the things in my life that weren’t going well. I began to see all the ways in which I was a failure. I started appraising the usefulness of my life (or lack thereof), and concluded that overall I had accomplished nothing in this life; and I was quite unlikely ever to accomplish anything. My family would probably be better off with our life insurance money than they would with me trying but failing to start a business. Nothing I had ever done had been successful. Hardly anyone held me in high regard. I had no joy-giving goals ahead of me that I had the slightest chance of accomplishing. I was useless. I would be better off dead.

The idea slithered into my head that I could open one of my windows and dive head-first onto the concrete sidewalk twenty feet below. Death would occur so quickly that I probably wouldn’t even have time to register the pain. It would be SO easy. . .

An aside: Satan nearly always plays his hand too aggressively, and that gives him away. For years I had thought and had even said aloud to several people that I had zero desire to commit suicide; but if I ever did, the one method I would never choose would be jumping. The mere though made me shiver. There are so many better ways to kill yourself than to squish yourself against the ground from a height!

And that’s what brought me to my senses! Satan is subtle and clever. He’s incomparably adept at using the “boiling frog” routine. I had gone from my normal, joyful self to contemplating suicide within the space of about an hour, without even realizing what was going on! (Duh!) But as soon as the idea of diving head-first out my window settled into my mind, I thought, “Wait a minute!. . .”

That got my attention. Within only a few seconds, I realized I was under spiritual attack (again—Duh!). And that made it all OK, because I had a lot of experience in battling spiritual, unseen forces by employing the power and the Name of Jesus. No problem. I would dispatch these spiritual assailants in no time.

Or so I thought.

I prayed. I challenged the invisible attackers in the name of my Lord Jesus.

And nothing happened—I still had a strong urge to kill myself.

I prayed more, and challenged, and commanded.

And I wanted more than ever simply to end it all. Killing myself would be SO easy, and it was SO desirable!

I can’t accurately describe my thoughts during that time. Everything was confusing, swirling, completely irrational. I knew the evil impulses came from spiritual forces outside myself. I knew they were ludicrous and destructive, and the results would be immeasurably devastating to the family I loved with all my heart. Yet I couldn’t shake the impulse to end it all. I was not able simply to hand the burden over to Jesus!

I needed help.

An aside: Even though this particular project had ended some months earlier, for well over a year my “prayer partner” had been Liz West. We had met together twice a week at an ungodly early hour in order to pray for God to pour out his Holy Spirit on Champaign-Urbana. Liz was a strong prayer warrior. I surmised that she could help me if anyone could.

I called Liz West, and thankfully she answered almost immediately. I told her what was happening—about my request to be able to bear part of A’s burden of depression, about my suicidal thoughts, about the spiritual attack. I explained that I was pretty much ready to kill myself, and I was helpless to fight it, and I desperately needed her to join me in the battle.

So Liz and I prayed together over the phone.

And in less than a minute, it was over. I felt fine. I was my normal self, with no desire to harm myself in any way.

Postscript: I cannot attribute A’s subsequent healing to any ministry in which I was involved. There is no way to know. But I want to tell you that, over the next few years, he was healed in a marvelous way. He said that he still heard a variety of voices in his head, but he had become able to tell which were false and which was God. He married a wonderful woman, and for years they have ministered together to death-row prisoners.

Our God is awesome!


Major impact

Please forgive the pun created by this section’s title. I couldn’t bring myself to call this section “Constipation.” But that’s what it’s about.

In this case, I didn’t ask to bear another’s burden. God just decided I should do it.

We were living in Bryan-College Station, Texas, where I was a graduate student. Shortly before noon—my watch said 11:30 or thereabouts—I had been working in my adviser’s research greenhouse, but had started thinking about lunch. I needed to have a bowel movement, so I left the greenhouse earlier than usual in order to walk over to the seed lab area where there were some restrooms. To my complete surprise, I found that I was constipated. Very constipated! I was puzzled: I had not altered my diet in any way over the past several weeks. I consumed lots of vegetables and ate only whole grains (bread, rice, breakfast cereal). There was no reason for me to be constipated. But I had a major impaction!

I began feeling increasingly lousy. I drove to a drugstore and bought a couple of enemas as well as some fast-acting laxative (which I consumed on the premises). Then I drove back to the seed labs, assuming that everyone by then would be back in the greenhouses or in the field, so hopefully I would be alone. Which turned out to be the case.

At some point during this process, God whispered into my mind, “Rejoice! The pain you are experiencing is redemptive for someone else. I am permitting you to bear what another should not bear.” To be honest, those words were not particularly comforting at that time. All I wanted was for this nightmare to be over.

I had consumed what was surely an overdose of fast-acting laxative. I meandered around the seed lab area, inside and out, hoping to distract myself my any means possible. Eventually I gave up and headed back to the restroom. I managed to give myself an enema without anyone’s intruding. Then, with difficulty and horrible discomfort, I was able to walk around some more. Nearly a half hour later, I stumbled back to a toilet stall. God was merciful—during this time no one else came into the men’s room. I strained, I cried out in pain, I groaned so loudly that I feared someone might run in from a great distance to ask if anyone needed help.

Eventually I was able to pass the mass of fecal matter that had been backed up in my intestines. That event was accompanied by an involuntary scream that I thought surely would bring emergency medics running—but again, by God’s grace, I remained alone. Incredible relief!!!

That evening at home I didn’t feel like doing much of anything. So I called my mother. In the course of the conversation, she happened to mention that, the previous night and into that morning, she had had an impossibly gruesome bowel impaction. It had been so desperately painful that she felt she just couldn’t take it anymore.

But she had finally gotten relief around 11:30 that morning!

Which, of course, was precisely when the problem had shown up in my body.

God had given me the privilege of bearing pain that otherwise my mother would have experienced!

He had told me that my suffering was redemptive. And thankfully, this phone call let me know for whom it was redemptive!

I had experienced nearly off-the-charts pain. But that was OK. God knew my heart sufficiently well that he knew I, without being asked (which I wasn’t), would be willing to carry pain for my dear mother. So he arranged for that to happen.

How kind is our Lord!