Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else, for each one should carry their own load. – Galatians 6:2-5
When we look at this passage, it almost seems like Paul gives contradictory advice. First, "Carry each other's burdens," and then, "Each one should carry their own load." Which one is it Paul?
When we look deeper into the Greek words that Paul uses here, some important distinctions arise. Cloud and Townsend do a great job explaining it. The first word, burdens, refers to things that come into our lives that are beyond our capacity to handle on our own.
"These burdens are like boulders. They can crush us. We shouldn’t be expected to carry a boulder by ourselves! It would break our backs. We need help with the boulders—those times of crisis and tragedy in our lives." (Cloud/Townsend)
The second term, load, refers to things that each mature adult is responsible for handling on their own. Their daily responsibilities for taking care of themselves.
"These loads are like knapsacks. Knapsacks are possible to carry. We are expected to carry our own. We are expected to deal with our own feelings, attitudes, and behaviors, as well as the responsibilities God has given to each one of us, even though it takes effort." (Cloud/Townsend)
In our relationships, being able to distinguish between Boulders and Baggage is huge. Often times we can become hostages to carrying other people's knapsacks. We often do so with the best intentions in mind, not realizing that not only are we NOT being helpful, we might actually be making matters worse.
People require tension to develop strength. Being whelmed is an expected and natural part of life that helps us grow and mature. When others are overwhelmed with boulders, step in. But when you take someone's 'knapsack' and carry it yourself, they will remain weak and you will break down because you are now overwhelmed. It is not your responsibility to take care of other people's responsibilities.
While this might seem harsh or even anti-Jesus, it actually is wisdom. Jesus often left people in the tension of being accountable for their own life. (EG- Rich Young Ruler)
This principle is not an excuse to get out of helping the poor and impoverished. Quite the opposite. "Denying ourselves to do for others what they cannot do for themselves is showing the sacrificial love of Christ. This is what Christ did for us. He did what we could not do for ourselves; he saved us. This is being responsible “to.” (Cloud/Townsend)
For some, due to their lack of resources and opportunities, what might seem like knapsacks to us might be a boulder for them. The key is to keep paying attention to the care you are giving to make sure you are not creating an unhealthy and co-dependent relationship. When in doubt, always defer to compassion and empathy.
I'll close with what might be the best summary of Boundaries:
"We are responsible to others and for ourselves."