to bear or not to bear: that is the question, 1 of 4

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Biblea 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.”[1] 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)…[2]

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?

Footnotes:

[1] Galatians 6.2a, 5

[2] Based on words from William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” Act 3, Scene 1.

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4 thoughts on “to bear or not to bear: that is the question, 1 of 4

  1. Paul,

    So I read this early today and have been pondering how I think and feel. This topic sure feels like a see-saw. If we think back to when we were little kids, most of us loved the see-saw. You’d love the part of helping balance the other person when your feet would hit the ground, then you’d feel so supported when it was your turn to be flying free up in the air. A see-saw, supporting and being supported…..When we grew up, we got off the see-saw. But we still go up and down when it comes to when we should support others or let them stand on their own. We may even ignore when we’ve done too much. But if we love the person, how do you make that choice? It’s heartbreaking knowing you may have been (or continue to be) an enabler. But it sure feels good when you’ve actually helped someone turn their lives around. It’s also difficult to know when to ask for help and support. If we do are we showing a sign of weakness? So many questions, such tough answers. I thank you for the reflection and look forward to the rest of the series.

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    • Bless you, Loretta. God knows and I know that you’ve lived the questions you raise, for you are an ever-giving human soul. Your see-saw analogy is perfectly priceless, especially when the person on the other end is a loved one. I wrestle/struggle with this issue in my life as a person and as a pastor. I look forward to seeing where I go.

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  2. This is a question I ponder daily as my parents’ needs increase in direct proportion to their decreasing physical and cognitive abilities. I look forward to your further musings!

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    • Thank you, Caroline, for reading and commenting, but most especially for the labor of love that is your life. You are most special to me for you witness to the Lord of love and life in your living. Your commitment of care to your parents, indeed, with and for your family is a blessing to me, even as I look on from a distance. Much love

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