Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. (Gal 6:2 NRS)

JK Rowling, a former welfare mom and author of the Harry Potter books, stood before the 2011 Harvard graduation class to give the commencement speech.  What would an author of children’s books possibly have to say to these brilliant young people about to embark on the journey of their lifetime?  Well… she spoke about the importance of using one’s imagination.  A seemingly frivolous topic.  But hardly!

She focused not on using one’s imagination for pleasure or entertainment (although I am sure she would approve of such things), but on using one’s imagination in order to empathize with others.  She is very wise.  It is by first listening and then by using our imagination to put ourselves in another person’s shoes that we can have empathy for that person.  And it is only when we have empathy that we can authentically bear another’s burdens. 

We do not follow Christ unless we bear the burdens of others.  This is easier said than done in a society that has deluded itself in believing that “every man or woman for themselves” makes us all stronger.  This is not true.  Jesus taught that we were meant to bear one another’s burdens.  This is how his followers are to live.

Whose burdens will you bear today?  An enemy will do, as well as, a friend.  Listen to the person, imagine what they’ve been through, empathize, and then use your imagination again to find ways to bear their burdens.  Make their deepest concerns your own.  Enlist others to help bear their burdens – two or more working together is always better than one.

If we do this, we will be following in the way of Christ.  Paul says we will have “fulfilled the law of Christ.”  Let’s get busy!  🙂


April is a progressive Christian who writes about scripture and spiritual disciplines. See her latest book, James in the Suburbs.  

2 Comments on “Empathy

  1. Okay, but I think the way we bear one another’s burdens is up for grabs. Liberals think we have to do it through government programs. Why? Can’t we just do it through non-government means?


    • Awesome idea, Joy. So why isn’t it happening already? Where’s all that ready-made Christian generosity that should be the default?



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