The backpack and the boulder

Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. Galatians 6:2

For each will have to bear his own load.
Galatians 6:5

In their book Boundaries, Henry Cloud and John Townsend talk about the seeming incongruity seen in these neighboring verses. How can it be that we are told to carry each other’s troubles, and yet that we are meant to carry our own load ourselves?

The answer, I am told, lies in the Greek translation. As Cloud and Townsend tell it, the “burdens” are represented by a Greek word that indicates a huge, overpowering problem. (I almost think they said it was a literal boulder, but I could be wrong.) The “her own load”, however, refers to those everyday items, literally a backpack that you would carry that contains your daily “stuff” . . . so the concept is that yes, we are to help each other with the “boulders”, the stuff that is too big for us to carry alone, but that we are not
meant to take on someone else’s backpack, the “stuff” that is theirs alone to deal with.

I think the problem comes when the two are both present. So you’re throwing your shoulder into this gigantic boulder, giving it everything you’ve got, and in the process, the person whose boulder it is throws you their backpack–or simply drops it as she struggles to push at the boulder. And of course you might as well grab it for them, right? Because you’re standing right there anyway, shoving on this boulder.

Or sometimes they take a boulder that you’ve helped them jackhammer into small, manageable pieces, and they grab some of those pieces and fill their backpack with them. So now their backpack has become a boulder. They’re the one who chose to pick up those rocks again, but the fact still remains that they can’t carry the backpack under this weight. Do you yell at them for having picked up those rocks, when the reality is that they’ve been under a
boulder so long that they don’t know how to be free of its weight and still feel okay? Do you lecture them, tell them that they really need to just dump out those rocks, and that you don’t care how attached they’ve become to the weight of them? Or do you grab one strap of the backpack and help them carry it anyway?

I am sitting here tonight, somewhere between the boulder and the backpack, and although I know that I don’t have it in me to carry both, and that I’m not doing a very good job with the juggling act, I am just not sure what to put down.

3 thoughts on “The backpack and the boulder

  1. I tried to post and it froze on me so I sent you my thoughts in an email. Which was basically just it isn’t supposed to be ONE person helping with something as big as a boulder. And you have to think about yourself not just as “giver” but also “receiver” sometimes…. my two (ten?) cents!

  2. What if you are pushing one person’s boulder, however they are ignoring their own boulder and are too busy with someone else’s. OR that they don’t realize they can’t carry 2 backpacks full of rocks and it scares you that they will hurt themselves in the process. Maybe you want to yell at this person,” concentrate on your own boulder and once that is managed you will better be able to help others!” Ok I slaughtered the metaphor even further, I am trying to say that I am concerned about you. At some point Mona is going to have to do things on her own, you simply can’t be there every minute and take care of yourself as well. There is my opinion, for what it is worth.

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