a personal and biblical reflection, based on Galatians 6.2-5
Two days ago, January 6, the Feast of the Epiphany, from the Greek, the word meaning “revelation,” I awoke stirred by the recollections of things a number of folks have shared with me o’er the course of these still early days of this new year. Tough things. Largely having to do with difficult elements of human relationships and mostly, I perceive, involving the issue of what help does one offer to another and, if so, how much and when.
Immediately, a biblical passage, as it oft does, occurred to me. The Apostle Paul’s seemingly contradictory counsel to the Christians of Galatia, “Bear one another’s burdens (and) all must carry their own loads.” Nearly as swiftly, Hamlet’s poignant inquiry came to mind (which I paraphrase parenthetically):
To be(ar) or not to be(ar): that is the question:
Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune (to befall another),
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles (on behalf of another)…
I wonder (this wonderment leading to this series of reflections in which, per my norm, I process as I ponder never quite sure where I’ll go or end up!). Why the apparent doublespeak? Did Paul write one thing, then rethink it and, thinking better of it, change his mind? (Surely, something I oft do!) Or did Paul, betraying a fundamental ambiguity or haziness of thought, attempt to cover every possibility?
I can’t be certain, but, as I read it, Paul highlights two primary parts in the complex equation of human relationships. When he says, “bear one another’s burdens” and “all must carry their own loads,” he addresses an age old issue (in modern-speak) of establishing and maintaining appropriate personal boundaries, whether in our intimate and familial blood relations, our social, religious, and political associations, or, even, I would aver, between and among peoples and nations.
In each and every case, a question is: How do we honor our individual personhood and that of all those around us? Stated another way, how do we respect our own human dignity and that of others?
Even more, given that none of us is wholly self-sufficient and that chance and circumstance oft conspire to challenge our independence, all of us, from time to time, need help. So, how do we lend assistance to others without usurping, and thereby undermining, their responsibility for themselves? And how do we allow others to assist us without relinquishing our responsibility for ourselves?
Still more, how do we deal effectively with those who seem willing to abdicate their self-care in the hope that we will shoulder their burdens? How do we deal faithfully with the child or adult, daughter, son, or parent, spouse or significant other, relative, friend, or acquaintance, personal or professional associate who, seemingly from our point of view, irresponsibly acts up and irrepressibly acts out, leaving undone those things which ought to have been done and doing those things which ought not to have been done, appearing to be quite unaware of (or, perhaps, aware, but insensitive to) the effect of her or his words and actions on others?
 Galatians 6.2a, 5
 Based on words from William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” Act 3, Scene 1.