(Photo by J W on Unsplash)
A while ago I was having a conversation with a mentor who told me that there was a difference between caring and carrying. We are called to care for one another, but not to carry one another.
In Gal 6:2-5 Paul writes, "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."
As I explained on Sunday, the burden that we are meant to carry is that of an overwhelming weight, a weight that troubles the person and that they are unable to carry themselves. We have been created for community, and it is in community that we find the support we need to get through certain situations in our lives.
However, Paul also says that each one should carry their own load. The word Paul used for "load" has as its root the word "invoice". We could say that Paul wrote that, "each should pay their own invoices." There is a cost for the decisions we make, and our maturity depends on our ability to pay for them.
This has been a groundbreaking discovery for me, but it is also a tension. I need to care for people, but not to the point that I am carrying them. There have been times where I have been unwilling to care for people, but then there have also been times that I care far too much. So when am I caring, and when do I cross the line to carrying?
Honestly, I do not think that this is straightforward. Each situation and every person's journey is different. We cannot put a blanket rule over what is caring and what is carrying. But here are a few thoughts that have helped me in my journey.
1. Are there special circumstances the person is going through?
There are times when a person experiences a traumatic situation and needs to be given special grace. For a season any care given probably won't reach into carrying.
2. Is the person taking responsibility for their life?
This is probably the big one for me, evaluating whether the effort I am putting in to care is being reciprocated by the other person in some way. This reciprocation must be more than intention and be seen in action. As a younger pastor I wanted to be the one pursuing people that I was mentoring and would be the one to initiate catch ups and conversations. I would prepare for these catch ups and try to bring as much advice and help as I could. Looking back, there were times when I was carrying the person instead of caring for them. I didn't even give them the opportunity to reciprocate.
Now I give the person room to show that they are pursuing the mentoring relationship as much as I am. I let them be the one to chase me up for a catch up half the time rather than be the initiator all the time. I wait to see if they are taking on the advice I have given or if there isn't any change. In other words, I see whether they are willing to pay for their own invoices.
3. Am I attaching my identity to the person I am trying to help?
Some people won't stop carrying other people because it gives them a sense of identity. I know this was true of me. What does it say about me if I didn't care as much? What would people think? Sometimes we can get manipulated to pay for other people's invoices when they make statements of, "don't you care what happens to me?"
The problem with such statements is that they have defined what the care you give looks like. And they are also suspiciously short-term in their thinking. Truly caring for a person means that I want them to be able to stand on their own 2 feet. That they can be responsible for the call on their lives. That they can be trusted to grow and mature. Sometimes caring for them the way they would like means that these are not likely to happen in the long-term.
4. Have I got a support network and accountability with whom I can be completely transparent?
This question is more of a heart-check. If you are constantly helping others but never allow yourself to receive proper help, you probably receive much security from being the helper, and have a problem with being a helpee. All of us need help from time to time. In fact it is God's grace, a free gift that we do not earn, that keeps us alive. We need to be as good receiving care as we are giving care.
I hope that these 4 questions will help you to balance caring and carrying people. I believe that if we develop in this, we will see many more people released into maturity and into their God-given call!