I find it easy to obsess about other people, especially my family members. When I say I obsess, I mean it is easy to obsess over their mistakes, their problems, their struggles. It is even easy for me to obsess over their potential mistakes. I want to figure out how I can behave to keep them from making mistakes or to keep them from enduring major consequences of their mistakes. I get enmeshed offering unsolicited advice, working behind the scenes to get others to act in a way that produces the results I think are best, trying to control whatever I think I can to make things in their life go the way I want them to, measuring every word carefully to manipulate them to do what I think is best.
Please understand, this is not about me getting what I want. I can assure you. I really think I have their best interests at heart. I want what is best for them. Of course, oddly enough, usually what is best for them is pretty good for me too. That is probably a different discussion. I simply want you to understand that this is all out of love. I love my kids and my wife. I don’t want them to suffer because of mistakes. Sometimes, I convince myself that if I were to behave just right, I can keep them from ever making any and, therefore, they’ll never have to suffer any pain.
This can especially happen with my spouse or my children. No matter how much stress it adds to my life, I take great pains to try to control and manipulate circumstances, other people, and them to accomplish what I think is best for them. (Oddly enough, I’ve noticed that this mindset actually makes it very easy for others to manipulate me as well, as they play into my desire to have everything be a certain way.) I have a verse that tells me to do that. “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). It’s my job to bear their burdens. They make mistakes and I have to be involved. Or, I tell myself, if I’m not involved they’ll make mistakes. I have to keep them from that. Oh yes, it’s a burden for me. But God says I have to do it. Aren’t I such a wonderfully spiritual person, willing to bear all these burdens that everyone else in my family has?
But wait, what about Galatians 6:5? “For each will have to bear his own load.” What about that verse? What is going on here. Paul says we should bear the loads of others, but then says we each must bear our own. How can he say both?
I’m not a great language scholar. I’ve read the attempts of some to explain how these two verses are talking about different things, two different kinds of burdens because the words translated “burden” and “load” are different. Perhaps they are, but even after reading the different definitions and the explanations, I have trouble seeing that difference. Instead, I think this is one of those paradoxes that Paul likes to use. He tells us two things that seem to be completely opposite and yet both are true. Believing both and using them to guide us helps us understand how we should live.
When my kids or spouse are struggling under a load, should I be there to help them lift it? Sure. But is it my load? No, it isn’t. Sadly, I like to live in extremes. I either want to ignore everyone completely and tell them to go worry about everything themselves, I have no responsibility here, it’s not my burden (I like to minimize this by calling it tough love). Or, I’ll live as if their problem is mine and I absolutely have to fix it or the world and our relationship will collapse, not to mention everyone else will look down on me because someone connected to me is less than perfect (this is what we call enmeshment and codependence). Instead of living in these extremes with my family (or anyone else for that matter), I need to learn to live with Paul’s two concepts in my head, heart, and hands. Should I be a servant to others? Absolutely. Should I let myself be crushed under the weight of everyone else’s burdens? Absolutely not.
When my daughter has trouble with her friends, should I come alongside as a loving parent, guiding her in how to properly relate to friends? Should I listen as she bears her soul and expresses her feelings? Of course I should do these things. However, should I make her problems mine, living in fear that her friends’ parents aren’t going to like me because she’s having trouble with her friends? Should I go behind the scenes to talk to her friends myself and try to fix the relationship? Should I call up her friends’ parents and try to get them to fix their daughters so my daughter can have a good relationship? Not likely. That’s her relationship, not mine. That’s her burden, not mine. (Yes, I understand in dealing with young children like mine there is a place for parents to get together, but it should be to help the children learn how to work things out, not to fix the kids and definitely not to fix someone else’s kids.) You know, to be honest, I have enough burdens of my own to be heaping the guilt and shame of everyone else’s burdens on there too.
I could give example after example of this. What I learn is that I should be there to help lift up my family when they have burdens. But their burdens are not mine. I don’t have to live like they are. I don’t have to live in fear that I’m bad because they have burdens. I don’t have to bear the guilt of their mistakes. I don’t have to rush around trying to cover up their mistakes or remove the consequences of them. I don’t have to be the image consultant to make sure they look good, so I’ll continue to look good. I don’t have to beat myself up trying to be perfect so they’ll be perfect to because of me. I’ll be there to help where I can help, but those are their burdens and we each have to carry our own load.