My wife is a strong and independent woman. In fact, she’s so strong and independent that I often fail to see when she is in need. A recurring issue at our home might look something like this: Kelli gets out of the car, and loads herself up with groceries and other burdens. As she climbs the front steps to our home, that whole load is teetering in her arms and on the verge of spilling onto the porch, down the steps, or into the yard. But she appears to have such a good grasp of it! The clip of her walk, and the determination in her face often cause me to think that she either does not need help, or that she does not want it. In those instances I sometimes continue to dawdle with whatever task or entertainment with which I was already dawdling. Kelli will then snap, “Can’t you see I need help!” Of course, I rush to her side and catch anything (usually) before gravity rips it from her grasp.
That scene illustrates a facet of Galatians 6:2 which commands us to bear one another’s burdens. It’s a particularly powerful verse, because it clearly says that to do so is to fulfill the law of Christ. Whenever I bear my neighbor’s burdens, I am fulfilling the law of Christ, which commands me to love the Lord with everything, and to love my neighbor as myself (Matthew 22:37-40).
Strangely, just three verses later, Galatians seems to contravene itself when Paul also tells us that each person will have to bear his own load (Galatians 6:5). So does a person bear his own load, or do I bear it for him? The answer isn’t that I bear it for him, but that I bear it with him. My neighbor is responsible for carrying the load of feeding his family, or untangling his own sins and their consequences, or fixing his own honest mistakes, or fulfilling his duties to God and community, or attending to any other clear personal responsibilities. Those are heavy loads, and the universe is set up in such a way that only he can carry them. However, it is also my duty to help him in whatever way that I can. He must bear the burden, but I must help steady him, give him strength, or help him to his feet should he lose his balance from the burden. I should not allow the burden to crush him.
This command to the Galatians places responsibility on both the burden bearer, and the helper. The burden bearer may need to put away the evil of pride, and ask for help from those who are trustworthy. Or he may need to stop assuming that others see his struggles, and realize that they are often occupied (or struggling themselves) and oblivious to it. The burden bearer simply needs to say to his trusted friends, “I’m struggling and I need your help.”
Likewise, the helper needs to be actively looking for ways that he can help. Do not continue dawdling when you see your neighbor climbing the steps with a week’s worth of groceries in her arms. Either ask your neighbor if she needs your help, or better yet, simply provide some assistance without being asked. As you help her, you’ll learn her situation and realize ways that you can help to keep her from being crushed.
Finally, the burden bearer should remember that he or she belongs to a faith community where there are many people who can help, including pastors, deacons, brothers and sisters. Do not shy from asking.