On Boulders and Knapsacks
"Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ … for each one should carry his own load."1
In one breath Paul says that we should bear each other's burdens, and in the next breath he says that every man should bear his own burden. Is he talking out of both sides of his mouth?
Actually Paul is referring to two types of burdens. The first means a large boulder, the weight of which is too heavy for any one person to carry alone.
The second refers to a knapsack size burden that one can readily carry himself. In other words, we need to help people when their load is too heavy to bear alone but not when they can handle it quite well by themselves.
However, those who are "takers" can be adept at getting those of us who are "care-takers" hooked into feeling sorry for them and we end up taking responsibility for their knapsack. What we need to do is to walk away and leave their knapsack for them to carry. They may get nasty and mean when we do this, but if we don't walk away from them, we become a part of their sickness.
To do this can be very unnerving at first. Long-standing patterns never surrender without a struggle, but helping people help themselves when they are fully capable of doing so is the kindest and most loving thing we can do for them—regardless of what our feelings "tell" us. By developing healthy boundaries to protect ourselves from being used, in time we will feel good about what we have done—or what we have stopped doing—because we will know that we have done the right and healthy thing. Plus, when we allow ourselves to be used, we make ourselves angry and upset and feel badly about ourselves—and understandably so.
So here's a paraphrased edition of what Paul said: "Help carry one another's boulders but don't carry their knapsacks for them."
Suggested prayer: "Dear God, give me a discerning heart so I know when to help a brother or sister with their boulder, and when I need to quit carrying knapsacks for people who are quite able of carrying their own knapsack. Thank you for hearing and answering my prayer. Gratefully in Jesus' name."
1. Galatians 6:2, 5 (NIV).