What if I could share some parenting advice that could also help you in some of the most difficult relationships in your life? I’m not exaggerating, these next few minutes could be some of the most freeing of your life.
I have developed a long term love relationship with an accessory.
In the spring of 1996, I purchased a fairly ordinary looking backpack in a mall in Colorado. I was a second semester freshman at a military school, and had just gone through something called “recognition” where we were no longer looked at as slaves, and were allowed to make limited big boy decisions, like choosing what kind of backpack we would carry. Little did I know that 21 years later, my Eastern Mountain Sports backpack would make it through four years of college, 17 years as a mobile office, and about ten trips to the other side of the world. I’ve carried my backpack most days for the last two decades, and it’s carried me through triumph and tragedy. I’ve grown so fond of my backpack, I might throw it a birthday party this spring.
Just a few years after getting my backpack I read one of the most profound books of my life. It was called Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud. Boundaries is based off of the scriptural teachings of Galatians 6. Essentially there are 2 important statements that initially seem contradictory in Galatians 6. In Galatians 6:2, we are commanded to “Bear one another’s burdens, and thus fulfill the law of Christ.” Two verses later, Galatians 6:4 ends by saying “for each shall carry his own load”. Some translations actually use the same word – burden – for both verses. Isn’t this confusing? What should we do? Bear one another’s burdens or bear our own?
Here’s the two minute summary of an excellent book (if you want more detail, listen to my podcast on the subject, and if you’re still curious get the book):
Every single person in life has a certain amount of responsibilities that constitute our own personal “Load”. This is their backpack. When you’re little, your backpack might include tying your own shoes, picking up after yourself, apologizing when you’ve done wrong, and acceptable chores. When you grow up, your backpack includes paying your own bills, processing your emotions, showing up on time, doing your own work. The Bible commands each of us to bear our own load.
On the other hand, however, we know that if we live long enough, every single person will also have their share of calamity and trial. These burdens can fill like boulders. Have you ever tried to carry a boulder? You can’t, at least not for very long at all. What are boulders? It could be a sickness, injury, family death or tragedy, a series of terrible events… there’s no end to the types of boulders people encounter. And the Bible commands us to bear one another burdens, their boulders, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
The problem comes when people get backpacks and boulders confused. People try to hand us (or we heroically take) their backpack. We trudge along carrying their load, feeling overwhelmed and resentful. Meanwhile they go along just fine, light and free and growing in irresponsibility. The converse of this is when people are truly weighed down by boulders that they cannot carry. The weight will crush them, but they have an overdeveloped sense of doing everything by themselves. If we don’t step in and help, the damage will be great.
The trick is understanding what is an appropriate backpack and what is an appropriate boulder in each person’s life.
How can this help you? First, practice it at home. Have this conversation with your family, use visual illustrations of backpacks and boulders. Talk about what’s in each person’s backpack. Help your kids understand theirs, and help them understand yours. Now, use the language as you walk through the week.
Then, as you build your discernment and courage muscles, take a look at your work and larger family environment. Where are you picking up other people’s backpacks? Where are you letting people flounder under boulders? What might you do different?
The concept is easy, the application can be challenging, especially in dysfunctional environments. Next week I’ll expand a little further, but if the concepts new to you, this is plenty to practice for one week.
I’m praying for you! Let me know how it goes!