“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 6:2-5
It feels contradictory. The author of Galatians gives one instruction and then, a few verses later, appears to give an instruction that directly violates the first. However, this knot can be sorted out easily enough.
The admonition to “carry each other’s burdens” is a call to humility. Paul is calling Christ followers to serve others. Paul is concerned about arrogance in the Christian community. Proverbs 3:34 speaks clearly about the dangers of hubris; “God opposes the proud.” Paul knows that comparing ourselves to others can lead to pride or envy. In order to avoid this pitfall Paul reminds the church that no matter how someone looks on the outside, all of us have a load to carry. Both pride and envy pull us away from our own responsibilities, ie “each one should carry their own load.”
But beyond the seemingly scriptural contradiction is the lived tension. How do we know when to step in and help another? Where is the line between a hand up and a hand out? We know the adage, “Give them a fish and you feed them for a day. Teach them to fish and you feed them for a lifetime,” but the lived reality isn’t so cut and dry.
Not long ago, I was listening to a widower share about his life. There were more responsibilities now that his beloved had passed away. His new duties were added to the ones he already had. He was seen as the rock, the care taker in his family. He provided guidance, wisdom, and support for other members of his family. He was honest about his feelings and didn’t express any weariness or resentment for all that was asked of him. But I had to wonder if there would come a point when he would need to let someone else do the emotional heavy lifting. I asked him, “Who takes care of the care taker?”
It can be difficult to tell others we need help. There are times when we feel taken advantage of by someone who always needs help. We exhaust ourselves caring for loved ones laid low by injury or illness. We are sandwiched between caring for parents and raising children. We are willing to help care for others but we fill limited in what we can offer. We don’t want to offend; we don’t want to appear needy; we don’t want to be resentful or judgmental. We want to help and we want to know help will be there when we need it.
Living the balance between carrying another’s burdens, lifting our own load, and letting someone else help us, is difficult. I don’t think there is an easy answer and maybe that’s why the Paul wrote Galatians chapter 6 the way he did. But I do think that the best way to approach anything that is difficult is with humility and honesty. And I think that’s what God is calling us to.