Saturday, May 12, 2007

Carrying One Another’s Burdens (original posting date 12/10/06)

“Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” Galatians 6:2

One of the most significant calls on Christian community is to care for one another when life gets tough. When a friend or family member is really struggling, or maybe fully suffering, how do we handle it? What does it really mean to carry one another burdens?

As I’ve ridden this roller coaster called life, I’ve both carried others burdens and had times when others have carried mine. I’ve observed others as they’ve attempted to come along side people in times of need. Sadly, you know what I’ve realized? We’re just not any good at it!

I surely don’t mean to sound negative, because we all have the best of intentions – me too. And I’ve seen some successes in the last year. But on a day to day basis, I just don’t think this is something many of us have mastered. More often, I see this…

The person who’s suffering, but…
 Wears so many masks, you’d never know it. This person is more concerned with outward appearances than becoming authentic enough to be made whole.
 Refuses to ask for and/or accept help. This person is too proud, too stubborn, or both, determined to go it alone. They will be resistant and maybe even hostile to assistance.
 Asks too much of others around them. This person wants to be saved by you, when really they need to be relying on God. They know no boundaries and can be very draining.

The person who observes suffering, and
 Walks the other way. This person is too busy and/or self absorbed to notice pain and stop to lend a hand. They’re unavailable and are an impatient listener.
 Tries to play God. This person, Miss/Mr. Fix-it, thinks they have all the answers and too quickly jump in with advice and/or opinion. They may be pushy if you don’t listen.
 Listens only in resentment. This person finds the one suffering a burden and may even make unfair judgments or inappropriate comments in regard to this person’s situation.

Wow… You fall into any of these categories in the last year? I think I’ve fallen into ALL of them.

So how do we improve on this? I think we all want to do this well. What does scripture really say?

There’s something to be said for studying scripture in context. Let’s look together at Galatians 6:1-10 and see what’s on either side of verse two.

“ 1Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. 2Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. 3If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. 4Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else, 5for each one should carry his own load.
6Anyone who receives instruction in the word must share all good things with his
7Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. 8The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. 9Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. 10Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.”

Read alone, verse two merely implies that I am commanded to carry the burdens of my brothers and sisters in Christ. Yet this offers neither guidance nor limits which leaves the verse open to a myriad of interpretation and questions: What is a burden? How much should I carry? When should I carry it? What if I am already overwhelmed in my own life? It’s when it’s put into context of the text around it, that we see the greater meaning revealed.

Verse one is explicit to the handling of one caught in sin. We are to restore gently. Verse three speaks a warning to arrogance. Verse four then challenges us to look at our own lives and not get lost in comparisons. Verse five concludes stating each of us should carry our own load. Are you more confused or have matters been cleared up? : P Originally, I believed the former, but now, God has revealed to me more clearly what he’s asking.

If we are to be humble and restore others in sin, could not burden be the weight of sin that can fall upon us? Might it be that we cannot stand up under temptation alone? We will have struggles in this life. We need one another for support and encouragement. We need wisdom and prayer. The right person can pour into our lives tremendous strength by their love and acceptance of us at our weakest points. But this does not allow us to evade the responsibility for our own stuff… our past, our present choices and actions, and our future. At then end of the day, we are each fully responsible for ourselves. But the wise man will know there are times he cannot go it alone and the law of love commands us to step up when such a person approaches us. It’s a complex spiritual balancing act.

The second paragraph pulls it further together. If I, in my foolishness continue to live in the world, satisfying my sinful nature, doing things my way not God’s, there will be consequences. If I’ve learned nothing by now, its that I’m not qualified to run my own life. So if I choose to live in rebellion, I better be ready for a rough ride and a lot of frustration, like a man beating himself against the wind. This is about God and me first. I answer to him. He is to be my number one provider of wisdom and strength. But if I acknowledge when I am weak, I can also ask my brother for help. On the other side, I should never cease to be available to my brother and never miss a chance to do good for him when asked (or even before asked). We are a family, and families go out on a limb for one another. You are responsible for you, but I am responsible to you. In doing this though, I must remember that I cannot save or fix my brother, only God can do that. My number one role in my brother’s life may be only to point him lovingly right back to Christ.

I do not want to however, contain this to only sin struggles, as I don’t believe that’s the author’s intent. I believe it starts there, as we’re to strive for holiness. But it doesn’t end there. We are likewise to come along side one another, when any weight is throw at us, too difficult for us to bear alone. This may include heartache, pain, suffering, fatigue, financial challenges, and large tasks.
Exodus 17 offers a beautiful example of “burden-bearing” from the Old Testament…

“The Amalekites came and attacked the Israelites at Rephidim. Moses said to Joshua, "Choose some of our men and go out to fight the Amalekites. Tomorrow I will stand on top of the hill with the staff of God in my hands." So Joshua fought the Amalekites as Moses had ordered, and Moses, Aaron and Hur went to the top of the hill. As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning. When Moses' hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up—one on one side, one on the other—so that his hands remained steady till sunset. So Joshua overcame the Amalekite army with the sword.” Exodus 17:8-13
Moses was commanded by God to do something. He could not have Aaron or Hur do it for him. It wasn’t their task to do. But when he grew tired, he could ask for help. Aaron and Hur were with Moses. They walked beside him day by day, as we should in Christian community. They were able to see when his hands grew tired. A combination took place of Moses asking for help and Aaron and Hur simply seeing he needed it. And they held up his hands. The three of them together, completed the task… where the weight was too much for one man.

Solomon, often called the wisest man (apart from Jesus) in the Bible, writes this:
“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!” Ecclesiastes 4:9-10

We’re not meant to go it alone… but there are limitations. Limitations on what we should ask of others and what we should provide for others. I don’t believe there are clear cut rules. There may be some general guidelines, but not rules. Each situation is unique and I encourage you with discernment to seek God on how to handle your particular situations. As I look back though on the last year, I myself have made a lot of mistakes in this area. And sadly, I believe I’ve damaged relationships and maybe even lost one of the most precious people to me. So, what I will conclude with, is what I’ve learned this year, about my burdens and the carrying of other’s.

When I’m struggling or suffering…
 Who do I reach out to first? Do I go to the throne (God) or do I go to the phone (my friends)? Though I’m a very verbal processor, I need to remember to seek God first in all things. I can be verbal and process with him too, alone in my room or through journaling.
 How much of my stuff am I expecting my friends to carry? Is it too much? Am I asking them to be God for me? Are the people I’m leaning on able to carry the weight? It’s important to have honest conversations with my closest friends about boundaries. I must allow them to express when they simply aren’t able to listen or help me at a given time. I must accept and respect this and be thankful for such honesty. I need to learn when to shut up and keep things just between me and God… and/or seek professional assistance.
 Am I being discerning with whom I’m sharing sensitive information? Are the people I talk to wise counsel and trust worthy? It is important to be confident that the receiver of information is able to handle it and provide real godly wisdom. Not everyone is emotionally or spiritually mature enough to handle all matters. The wrong person can make my situation worse through bad advice… or at least cause me additional stress as I deal with them (especially if I don’t take their advice) or feel I have to justify too much. Never forget at the end of the day I must listen to and obey God, not my friend’s advice.
When someone else is struggling…
 Which do I do more – talk or listen? I should be listening much more than I talk. I should be seeking to understand. I should be asking lots of questions. One of the most significant questions I need to ask is… “What can I do for you in this situation?” Through open and honest conversation, I need to determine if I am just to listen, pray, or provide advice. If told to only listen and/or pray, I must respect this and keep my mouth shut, unless I need to specifically, on the prompting of God, confront a sin issue.
 Am I able to balance between loving sacrifice and calling boundaries? Am I available? Am I willing to change my plans to meet a need? Am I paying close enough attention to those around me that they feel loved and supported? If I find that I simply can’t provide them what they’re asking, and I’ve ruled out selfishness as my reason, I need to lovingly express this. I need to provide other alternatives or make compromises. If they’re truly asking too much (it’s not me… its them), I need to have the courage to challenge them back toward God, and/or professional assistance if warranted.
 Do I know when to back off? I need to remember to always give the benefit of the doubt. If I didn’t generally trust and respect those coming to me, they wouldn’t be such good friends. I need to understand that often they are indeed doing all they can. They are processing all they can handle at this moment. Though intentions may be in love, pushing often comes across as disrespect and can cause significant pain to the recipient. Pressure may actually stress them out to a place that they move farther from when you’d like to see them be. Sometimes I need to just pray and let God do his work in them.

Father God, we want to be obedient to your call to love one another. But in that, we also want to do it your way. We want to be able to clearly discern what is your role and what the role of others is in our lives. Likewise, we want to be able to carefully discern the role we are, and are not, called to play in the lives of others. Help us to be able to look outside ourselves to meet needs. Protect us from our own selfishness. But maybe even more so, fill us with your wisdom. Help us to be people who can handle difficult situations and hard information… yet address it in stride, because we are fully leaning on you and your strength anyway, not our own. Thank you God, for your Holy Spirit, who leads and guides us in all these things. May we be good stewards of the promptings he places on our heart. May we be sensitive listeners to him and others. May we also be disciplined in sound communication and honesty, and handle boundaries as necessary. AMEN.

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