When are we supposed to help others, and when must we refrain? When should we ask for help and when should we refuse it? What if helping someone actually hinders him or her. What if helping them hurts me. What if I need help? How do we navigate these decisions with love?
The Apostle Paul tells us in Galatians 6:2-5 “that we should 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” but what does that look like in real life?
There is a difference between burdens and loads, and when that distinction is blurred, we sometimes do more harm than good. We must share burdens, but we must not attempt to carry anyone else’s load; and we surely must not expect others to carry our load. What is the difference?
A burden is something that is too hard to carry by one person. It is usually something that comes upon us from outside of us – that is, it is not a result of our choices or the consequences of those choices. It can be grief, illness, or circumstances beyond our control.
We share burdens when we sympathize with one another in the various trials and troubles of life. We comfort and counsel the burdened one and we offer help and assistance. We can share the burden even if we have never experienced it. We simply need to know that God met us in our trials and troubles and encourage our loved ones that God will meet them. That is the comfort we give.
Sharing burdens fulfills the law of love because it helps those we love move from where they are in their walk with God to the next level of maturity. It is a reflection of what Jesus does for us: he knows our hearts and our temptations. He knows because he lived among us. He empathizes with us in our weaknesses and foolish behaviors (Hebrews 4:15). His sharing our burdens leads us into a deeper level of trust and faith.
This is illusrated in the photo above; my sweet little granddaughter has arrived at a place of maturity where she has her own carry-on, and she packed it. That is her load. She is carrying it all by herself.
Her big brother is helping her bear her burden: he is comforting her, guiding her, and walking with her as she traverses a new path by herself: a jetway. His presence helps her develop confidence in this new level of maturity. He is showing love.
Sometimes, the burden is emotional, or spiritual and we need friends to come alongside and help us with the burden. They cannot take the burden away, but their presence, wisdom, advice, or compassion and love strengthen us, thus fulfilling love: helping us move to the next level of maturity.
The amazing thing: when we help each other bear burdens, both of us are helped. We must help, and we must also receive help. I don’t think it was ever intended that we walk through life alone.
The Galatians passage warns us, though, that we must not think we are more than we are. We are not the comfort, we are the comfort bearers. It is not our place to condemn, but to restore. It is not our sufficiency that we bring, it is God’s. It is not our wisdom, but God’s. We cannot fix anyone’s problems, we deceive ourselves if we think we can. It doesn’t matter what others think of us, it matters what we lead others to think about God.
We are also not above needing help. Asking for help is not always easy, and receiving it can be even more difficult for some of us, but God made us to live in community – it is showing love to share burdens.
However, we cannot carry anyone’s load but our own, and we cannot expect anyone to help us carry ours. Loads are personal, individual, and our own responsibility to carry. Loads are like personal backpacks. My little granddaughter’s backpack is not nearly as big as her big brother’s is and his, I’m positive, is much smaller than his parent’s. We cannot compare loads because our loads are the sum of our individual choices, and the consequences that God allows.
If we choose to buy a house, we are responsible for the utilities, taxes, upkeep, etc – that is a load we chose. We must carry it. However, if the basement floods, all of our friends come over to help us mop, wash, and squeegee, they share our burden.
In the photo, if my grandson took on my granddaughter’s backpack, her load, he wouldn’t be able to hold her hand and share her burden. How do we show love when someone has a heavy load? We let them carry it. Not helping them is helping them. If we help them carry their load, we prevent them from gaining the strength and confidence they need to move to the next level of maturity. That is not love.
We will all give account of ourselves to God. He will judge our hearts, our attitudes, and our opinions. He will judge how we fulfilled the law to love: how we fulfilled our responsibility to others – how we shared their burdens and how we carried our own loads.
Whose burden are you sharing? Whose load are you trying to carry? Are you accepting help with your burden? Do you insist on carrying your own load? Are you fulfilling the law of love?
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