I recently had breakfast with a friend. As we were enjoying our bacon and eggs the conversation turned to a passage of scripture in Galatians 6 that I had been thinking a lot about in recent days. Here is the passage:
“Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else, for each one should carry their own load.” ~ Galatians 6:1 – 5
I was reminded of a great book I read years ago called “Boundaries” by Cloud and Townsend. They defined “burden” and “load” as:
- Burden – A challenge in your life that is too heavy to carry alone. In fact, it is God’s will that believers help carry one another’s burdens. It is like a boulder that no one should attempt to pick up by themselves.
- Load – A challenge or responsibility that God has given to me, and that I am suppose to carry myself. In the original language “load” referred to the small packs soldiers wore on their backs as they marched.
(If you want more from Dr. Henry Cloud on this check out http://www.boundariesbooks.com/boundaries/burden-boulder/)
In a perfect world each of us carries our own loads, and we all help one another carry burdens. This is Christian community at its finest (such as we see in the early chapters of Acts). But, we don’t live in that perfect world (not yet, anyways) and we need to learn how to live successfully in this current reality we call life. And that means, of course, we get it wrong often.
Here is the most common way I have gotten this wrong over the years, and some steps I am taking to get it right. Consider the following progression:
- Mistaking people’s loads for burdens
- Encouraging dependency upon me instead of Christ
- Resentment and being resented
- Failing to carry my own load
- Repeating the cycle
I begin to veer off course when I think of the load someone is struggling to carry as a burden that I am suppose to help shoulder. Why do I so often misjudge these situations?
- I want to be the hero – I want to swoop in and save the day!
- I want to feel important. If I can meet this need for them, they will look to me in the future.
- I want to prove my competencies. If I can solve this problem for you, then I will feel better about myself.
Initially this all seems fine and good. Someone had a need, I helped to meet the need. Everybody is happy, right? In fact, no, everyone is only happy for a short time, but then more serious problems develop…
One big problem? The other person now looks to me. They want me to continue helping them with their load – they may even ask me to carry other loads that I didn’t even know about. This would be OK if it was a burden, but because this is a load God wants them to learn to carry on their own I find myself at cross purposes with God. When I am working against what God wants I do so in my own flesh – there is no grace given for this.
Now I am in a situation where they expect me to keep coming through for them, but I am quickly running out of energy. This is a time bomb that will explode sooner or later…
Inevitably the day comes when I let them down. I just can’t keep carrying their load anymore. At this juncture I am feeling tired and frustrated. “Why do they expect so much from me?” I feel taken for granted, I feel used, and eventually I resent them for it.
How are they feeling? Incredibly disappointed, hurt, and probably angry. I had implicitly made promises to them that I failed to keep. The irony? Those who loved me most and sung my praises with such vigor are now the very people that resent me and speak ill of me. Ouch.
The next step in this downward spiral? Now I feel hurt. “How could they treat me this way after all I did for them?” “How could they be so ungrateful?” What is wrong with these people? This church? This marriage?
As I get sucked into the vortex I lose the energy and desire to carry my own loads. I begin struggling to connect with God on a daily basis. I don’t feel like exercising or engaging my children. I get irritable with my wife and start feeling sorry for myself. Before long I begin treating my own loads like burdens, and wonder why I have no one to help me…
The final stage? I severe the relationships (they are too painful) and move on to a new setting. Initially it feels so good to leave all of those immature, whining, and needy people behind. Good riddance! The problem? I soon begin repeating the cycle with these new relationships.
3 ways God is teaching me to grow up
- Don’t fix, model. Instead of trying to fix what is wrong in people’s lives, focus on modeling for them a life worth imitating. This means carrying my own loads and asking for help with burdens.
- Point to Jesus. When I disciple someone I am saying “follow me as I follow Christ”. God is the only one who can meet your deepest needs. He is the living water and the bread from heaven. Learn from me how to connect every day with the source of life.
- Say “no”. There are people out there who will gladly ask you to carry every load they own. They have never been challenged or equipped to pull their own weight. If I really love them I will say “no” when asked to carry their loads – and if they are teachable, I will share what I have learned along the way.