Weekly Edgework #5 - Aug 3, 2004

Loads and Burdens

Carry each other’s burdens and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ (Gal. 6:2).

Each one should carry his own load (Gal. 6:5).

I used to be confused about these verses at the beginning of Galatians chapter six because in both cases the King James Version of the Bible used the term burden when describing what was being carried. So it sounded like a contradiction to me – why carry other people’s burdens when a few verses later they are asked to carry their own?

A little further investigation reveals, however, that in the original language two very different words are used in verse two and five. In verse two the word means an overwhelming load. An appropriate image would be a gigantic boulder that is crushing the person trying to hold it up. In real life it would represent deep, catastrophic losses that render a person helpless, unable to carry on. In such cases it is our Christian duty to rush to the aid of others and help to lift the burden.

In verse five the word is best translated simply as load. Here the image is that of a knapsack, something that every hiker needs to carry for him or herself. All of us must take responsibilty for carrying those loads ourselves that come with normal living. While these knapsacks can become cumbersome and even heavy at times, we must try to find the inner resources to carry them ourselves.

So when we take these different images into account the apparent contradiction is resolved. We all take responsibility for carrying the loads that come with normal living. But when someone is being crushed by a load too heavy to carry – when he or she simply can not carry on under the extra weight, we all rush to help carry that extra burden. This allows the over-burdened person to get up and keep walking. This balanced, biblical approach to carrying loads and burdens can be beneficial for all concerned.

I can see a number of significant applications of this double-edged message in my life. First I must not be a whiner. It is easy for me to complain about the weight in my own knapsack – even blame others for the situations in life I am called to face. For example, I am responsible for my time, my feelings, my money and to live with my normal share of inconveniences and pain. If others try to carry these for me I will miss out on a normal maturing process and become spoiled.

Secondly, I must resist carrying other people’s loads when they are capable of carrying them alone, albeit at times with some difficulty. By rushing in too quickly and picking up the loads of others, I may be robbing them of the opportunity for growth and maturation. And besides I will soon find myself overwhelmed as I scurry about carrying loads that I should not be touching.

However, I must be ready to go out of my way to come to the aid of others who are being crushed by a load too heavy to bear. That is what Christian community is all about. But there is a limit to how much I should help. Once the boulders have been removed and those who were crushed are able to walk on their own, I must not offer to continue carrying their knapsacks. I must allow them the dignity of carrying their own loads once again.

Finally, I must be willing to admit when my knapsack has become a boulder and accept the help of others. Sometimes I am too proud to admit that my boulder is too heavy to carry alone. I want to maintain a self-sufficient image in the eyes of others. But it is not a shame to receive help from others when I really need it. If I find it too humbling an experience, I must remember that every time I help lift someone’s burden, that person must be humble enough to accept help. So why shouldn’t I humble myself and allow others to help me?

Maintaining a proper distinction between loads and burdens – those we carry and those others carry – provides a significant key to balanced life within community.