What I hope to do each week is to help those who read these 800 or so words to slow down enough to give thought to things we already know, along with some historical and spiritual perspective. There are few weeks that go by that I do not hear from someone, and for that I am thankful.

I have been thinking this week about all the groups and institutions that require and encourage cooperation and common goals. Most of us belong, or have belonged, to more than one. Think about civic organizations, sports teams, the military, healthy churches, good businesses of all sizes, volunteer organizations, local governments, food banks, or disaster relief efforts, for example. They all have something in common: they require those who are part of them to work for the benefit and good of others even if it means giving up some “rights” or preferences to accomplish the goals. They require setting aside selfish ambition (those that do not usually do not make good members).

These groups make up nearly all our real interaction with others and are forces that help us to overcome differences and lift each other up. In my experience when there is a common understanding of purpose or a clear goal in mind, we can tolerate difficult conversations and strong words. They are, in fact, necessary for understanding and progress. It is much healthier to argue with a trusted friend sitting at the same table than with someone of a different “tribe” at a distance. Proximity matters. It can be physical (in the same room) or emotional (lifelong friends who live in another place).

One of my favorite songs is The Hollies 1969 classic, “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother.” I even like every cover I have heard of it. It is impossible not to relate that song to the nightmare of Vietnam, but it is universally applicable and beautiful.

The road is long

With many a winding turn

That leads us to who knows where

Who knows when

But I’m strong

Strong enough to carry him

He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother.

So on we go

His welfare is my concern

No burden is he to bear

We’ll get there

For I know

He would not encumber me

He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother

If I’m laden at all

I’m laden with sadness

That everyone’s heart

Isn’t filled with the gladness

Of love for one another.”

Here are a few reminders to help us lift each other up and carry each other when needed. We need more of this and less of what has become known as “virtue signaling,” which is just another twist on violating the teaching of Jesus concerning removing the log from one’s eye before picking the splinter out of someone else’s. Practice praising virtue that we see in others, it will make it harder for us to put them down.

Be an encourager. I must admit that this one is difficult for me. For others, it seems to come naturally. There are people that you encounter daily that need encouragement. Be the person that others like to see approaching because they know they will be better off when you part company.

I have seen “Be Kind” signs showing up where I live. Do it. Be kind. There are enough clever people in the world. There is enough sarcasm. I produce enough for a few people on a bad day. Choose kindness over winning an argument. Choose kindness over proving a point. Choose kindness when having difficult conversations. Choose kindness.

Think of this as a journey. A task to be completed. And do not give up.

In A.D. 596, a group of monks was sent from Rome to go to the English to convert them to Christianity. On the way they lost their courage and decided to turn back. Augustine left them and returned to Rome for guidance. In his “Ecclesiastical History of the English People,” Venerable Bede records a letter sent from Pope Gregory to encourage those he sent to finish what they started. “Forasmuch as it had been better not to begin a good work, than to think of desisting from one which has been begun, it behooves you, my beloved sons, to fulfil with all diligence the good work, which, by the help of the Lord, you have undertaken. Let not ... the toil of the journey, nor the tongues of evil-speaking men, discourage you; but with all earnestness and zeal perform ... that which you have set about; being assured, that great labor is followed by the greater glory of an eternal reward.”

Sean Niestrath lives and ministers in Madisonville. You may contact him via email at sean.niestrath@outlook.com.