Boundaries and burdens – knowing when and how to say “NO” in love

In my last post I broached the subject of “burdens” and “loads” from Galatians 6. Burdens are meant to be shared with other people (think boulder) and loads are meant to be carried personally (think backpack).  Yesterday this question was asked on my FaceBook page:  “Good article, Tom.  But how do you differentiate the two?”

Of course, this is THE question!  Thank you for asking Billy!

Let me quote twice from “Boundaries” by Cloud and Townsend in response:

“Boundaries define us.  They define what is me and what is not me.  A boundary shows me where I end and someone else begins, leading me to a sense of ownership.”  (Page 29)

For starters, a load is something that is mine, that I alone own.  A burden is something that is also mine, but not something I have sole ownership over.  Think of a fence encircling what we must own, and within that fence are our loads (things like the words that come out of my mouth, my attitudes and beliefs, my behaviors, my choices, and my thoughts).

When it comes to burdens, imagine a larger area that is also enclosed by a fence.  Within this larger space we can see the first fenced area containing and defining my loads.  The difference?  This larger space that establishes the boundary around my burdens has a fence with several gates.  Why the gates?  Because, when it comes to burdens I need to open the gate from the inside and invite others into my life to help carry the weight of the burden.  And they need to do the same with me.

Here is a longer quote:

“We are responsible to others and for ourselves.  “Carry each other’s burdens,” says Galatians 6:2, “and in this way you fulfill the law of Christ.”  This verse shows our responsibility to one another.

Many times others have “burdens” that are too big to bear.  They do not have enough strength, resources, or knowledge to carry the load, and they need help.  Denying ourselves to do for others what they cannot do for themselves is showing the sacrificial love of Christ.  This is what Christ did for us.  He did what we could not do for ourselves; he saved us.  This is being responsible “to”.

On the other hand, verse 5 says that “each one should carry his own load.”  Everyone has responsibilities that only he or she can carry.  These things are our own particular “load” that we need to take daily responsibility for and work out.  No one can do certain things for us.  We have to take ownership of certain aspects of life that are our own “load”.

…These loads are like knapsacks.  Knapsacks are possible to carry.  We are expected to carry our own.  We are expected to deal with our own feelings, attitudes, and behaviors, as well as the responsibilities God has given to each one of us, even though it takes effort.

Problems arise when people act as if their “boulders” are daily loads, and refuse help, or as if their “daily loads” are boulders they shouldn’t have to carry.  The results of these two instances are either perpetual pain or irresponsibility.”  (Page 31)

So, I must be responsible for my own loads, but to others as I help carry their burdens.

How does this play out in real life?  One of the burdens our kids had when they were young was waking up in the morning to get dressed, eat breakfast, and arrive to school on time.  When they were in elementary school we would go into their rooms each morning and wake them up.  (We had one that woke up with a smile, one that just couldn’t wake up, and another that woke up breathing fire!)  These were shared burdens because most 8 year olds lack the ability to set an alarm clock and wake themselves in the morning.  They needed our help – so we gave it to them.

By the time our kids entered high school this burden shifted to a load.  They now had the ability to set an alarm and get up on time, and we had to shift our parenting style.  There was a period of time when they still wanted to treat their load as our burden, and we had to say “no” to that.  We also had many mornings when we were making multiple trips to school because one of them failed to get up on time to catch the bus.  This became a power struggle and made morning quite stressful.

The solution?  We needed to give our children full ownership of waking up and getting to school on time, and NOT rescue them when they failed to do do.  Here is what this meant for us:

  1. We will not come into your room to wake you up – but we will provide you with an alarm clock and teach you how to use it.
  2. We encourage you to eat a healthy breakfast, and will provide good choices for you each morning.  It is your responsibility to give yourself enough time to eat breakfast and clean up your dishes before leaving for school.
  3. If you oversleep and need us to drive you to school you may ask us.  If we are available we will do it – but it will cost you $3 for fuel and our time.
  4. If you oversleep and miss class you will deal with whatever consequences may come.  We will not make excuses for you if contacted by the school.

This may sound a bit harsh to some of you (it certainly did to our kids at first) but when done in love and genuine concern for what we believed was best for our children it made all the difference.  Saying “no” while communicating love and support is a skill that will require some practice, but definitely one worth learning.

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