to bear or not to bear: that is the question, 2 of 4

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Biblea personal and biblical reflection, based on Galatians 6.2-5

How do we honor our individual personhood and that of all people?

How do we caringly lend assistance to others without usurping, undermining their responsibility for themselves? How do we carefully accept assistance without relinquishing responsibility for ourselves?

Though I have no ready or easy answers to these questions, I think that a key to the beginning of a faithful response rests in wrestling with a key phrase in the Apostle Paul’s counsel: “Bear one another’s burdens and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”

However one views the Jesus-story of the Bible and the Christ-event of theology – whether as a literary expression and intellectual articulation of the highest human aspirations, Jesus being a mythic archetype of self-sacrificial nobility that, when lived out, neutralizes our inherently selfish passions that corrode our relationships or as a historically-rooted account and summation of  2000 years of thinking about Jesus of Nazareth, whose life is a supreme incarnation of what it is to be divinely human and humanly divine or something else or nothing – both the Bible and theology point to a paradox at the heart of human nature. We can “fulfill the law of Christ,” that is, become fully human as we were intended to be from creation’s dawn (or, expressed theologically, by God the creator’s divine design), only as we give ourselves to others.

In Jesus’ words, “Those who seek to save life will lose it and those who lose life will save it.”[1] As I have come to understand this teaching, selfishness (I confess, one of my most prevailing sins), by which I seek to have and to hold for myself, makes my life a small package of dwarfed personality and diminished possibility. Selflessness, by which I seek to give myself away for the sake of others, makes for a larger life. One characterized by my heightened awareness of the fullness of the human condition through sharing in the joys and sorrows of others and deepened acceptance of myself through embracing the joys and sorrows of my life.

“Bear one another’s burdens…all must carry their own loads.” Paul calls us to remain open to the opportunities to help others when they find themselves caught in “the fell clutch of circumstance.”[2] We are bidden to discern what we have to offer and to decide what we will offer – whether some great or small concrete act of care arising out of our experience and expertise or a compassionate word or the comfort of our presence. We, bearing the burdens of others, offer our gifts. Then we, letting others carry their own loads, respect their responses to our offerings as they choose, accepting or declining with a sense of thanks or ingratitude, with a spirit of trust or suspicion, now or later.

Footnotes:

[1] Luke 9.24.

[2] From William Ernest Henley’s Invictus.

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4 thoughts on “to bear or not to bear: that is the question, 2 of 4

  1. Thank you Paul, for all the ways in which we can see our truth in your words, your faith as another anchor for us…+

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  2. I’m grateful for part 2 Paul!

    Offering my gifts is for me one of the elements that makes Loretta, Loretta. I learned a lot about offering gifts and seizing gifts from serving with you for several years. I saw in your presence that when people shared with you, you made them feel like they were the only person alive on earth. That is a true gift.

    What I hope to improve on is learning to accept people’s responses to my gifts when I’m helping with burdens even when I don’t like their response. AND I have to learn to let people help me with my burdens. I reject help when I probably shouldn’t and am disappointed when offers to help with burdens don’t come from the ones I want to offer. What I learned from this blog post is that I should respect all things that happen when offering and when expecting offers of help, and that the gifts will be used however they were meant to be. I have to be happy with my gifts and accepting the good and bad of myself (and my burdens). Sometimes all that’s needed is being present with someone without offering more. Thank you!

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    • Amen, Loretta, for “sometimes all that’s needed is being present with someone without offering more.” I believe that. And it’s so hard, surely I find it to be so, to respect others and accept their responses (or lack) to my offering what I can and will offer. It’s also difficult to hear “no” to my requests for aid (which is a large reason why it has taken me much of my life to learn to ask; for “no” sounds to my soul like rejection of me). A final word, for now. I smiled when I read: “Offering my gifts is for me one of the elements that makes me Loretta.” A double amen to that!

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