As we begin a new year in our churches, in the sense that summer is behind us, maybe it’s a good time for each of us to take a close look at the admonishment to bear each other’s burdens. Fulfilling the law of Christ might prevent many a fall this fall.
No one disagreed that I was probably the worst vocalist in our high school church youth choir. I had been told I was a bass, so I was always on the back row, which was fine with me. The choir director would sometimes know something was amiss and he’d say “Let me just hear the bass row on this part,” and he’d cup his ear and lean towards our row to find out who was off key. At that point, I’d completely stifle the vocal chords and just mouth the words in silent unison, to remain undiscovered. I mainly enjoyed the camaraderie and the summer mission trips where we’d go to exotic places like South Texas and sing our musicals in hot grocery store parking lots hoping not to get run over.
This was during my period of awakening. I was discovering my voice as a young writer in high school, which was, thankfully, a little clearer than my voice in the choir. I was also trying to discover myself. I was having my first doubts about my sexuality, right in the middle of hearing the first teachings about it in church, though that was pretty scant. I was faced with my first teases and temptations from older guys who worked where I did and about whom rumors were spread. I was trying very hard to foster relationships with girls and attending the homecoming dances and proms and enjoying it, but I knew things were amiss with me because of the thoughts in my head which would not go away no matter how much I beat myself up about it. Surveying the possibilities for disclosure and the potential responses, I pretty much did the choir thing. I clammed up when anyone came near to trying to find out what was wrong in the row in which I stood. I mouthed the words in silent unison: “I’m fine.” I was an expert from childhood at stifling feelings, so why stop?
In fact, I “I’m fine’d it” all the way through college and right into marriage, fatherhood, a career, church leadership and resisted pretty much every attempt on anyone’s part to pry that four-letter word away from my lips. Most people who are “fine” are walking a very fine line.
One of the parking-lot songs of my high-school vocal career still haunts me. The simple lyrics from a musical called Natural High never faded from my memory like most of the others. The song spoke about a girl in a youth group who just slowly moves into the wrong lifestyle while others watch and wonder and go about their lives, knowing something’s amiss, but just knowing and wondering and worrying, but not really intervening.
We’re all very worried about Jenny
She was such an active person in our church
But she’s been running around with the toughest kids at school
And the scuttlebutt has it she’s been ex-per-i-men-ting with drugs.
Simple words designed to motivate young people to care about each other. But sometimes simple words stick with you.
Words like: “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.” — Ephesians 4:32.
Or: “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” — Galatians 6:2.
Or: “You have sinned against the Lord, and be sure your sin will find you out.” — Numbers 32:23.
And: “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming.” Colossians 3:5,6.
The Bible is really not that hard to understand on most points that govern our daily lives; how we are to live and live with each other.
We’re not supposed to sin and when we do, there is no way to keep that from God or others.
We are supposed to forgive each other and do so tenderly, as Christ did.
We’re supposed to carry each other’s burdens.
And we cannot justify the sins that we carry and hang onto, whether they’re habitual, deep-rooted, the result of abuse or being led astray. We own those sins and we have to take responsibility for them. What’s “mine” I can give to Christ by laying it at the Cross, realizing in both sorrow and joy that He paid the price.
Now, back to Jenny.
The closing line of the woeful song? “We don’t worry about Jenny anymore.” The group goes on, as does life and Jenny spins on into memory. Someone who may or may not make it to the 25-year reunion.
In the recent news I heard of a high school coach suspended and charged with having an inappropriate relationship with a young girl, a former youth pastor arrested for alleged sexual misconduct with young people, a grandmother confronting reporters asking why her 15-year-old granddaughter was dancing in a strip club and a story about a lady pastor who was horribly murdered in her small church. Such sadness in one day . . . and these were just the stories that were picked up by the TV satellite.
I guess I’m just wondering this morning if we are working hard enough to protect each other, to bear each other’s burdens, to forgive each other so we can model the tenderheartedness of Christ in a world that has grown to be very hard and harsh and cold.
I truly do accept responsibility for my sins and the responsibility to work out my own repentance . . . but I can’t help but wonder what might have been had there been a little more protection around a little boy who found skewed security in the arms of a pedophile. Or if maybe when I shared in college that I was feeling really bad about having messed around with a friend . . . that a spiritual mentor had said more than that it was just a part of growing up and I would grow out of it. Believe me, we never talked about it again.
I wonder if sometimes we don’t put a little too much effort into protecting ourselves from the sinners around us instead of protecting them from themselves and the pits into which they are lunging. It’s not really that hard to see where some of the people around us are headed. Some of the burdens would be a lot lighter if we helped carry them sooner.
Our sins will find us out, that’s true. I am a testament to that Biblical truth. But maybe we could help each other a little more to avoid some of those sins in the first place and then the consequences would not be so great, the regrets for some of us not so heavy, the messes not quite so hard to clean-up.
Come to think of it, maybe those of us who have experienced the devastation of habitual sin may bear an even greater responsibility to watch out for and guide others away who approach the precipice.
Maybe when we cup our ears and listen for what we think is someone a little out of tune, we need to lean in a little closer, linger a little longer and wait for a sound. Keep your eyes peeled and your ears open. You may save a family . . . or prevent a teenage pole dancer . . . or help someone choose an entirely different journey.
What do you think? Are we doing a good job of bearing each other’s burdens . . . or do we have too many Jenny’s?