BURDENS

Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ. [Galatians 6:2 (NLT)]

The other person is a burden for the Christian, in fact for the Christian most of all. The other person never becomes a burden at all for the pagans. They simply stay clear of every burden the other person may create for them. [Dietrich Bonhoeffer]

sled dogs
There is a negative connotation to the word “burden;” we neither want to be a burden nor are we anxious to carry one. Carrying a burden makes me think of a donkey or mule, laboring under a hefty load, struggling to transport it up a steep hill. Indeed, a burden is a heavy load or something that is borne with difficulty yet we are called to share each other’s burdens. I don’t like to think of people as burdens and yet Dietrich Bonhoeffer says that, for a Christian, that’s exactly what they are. I find it hard to associate the joy of Christianity with an image of myself as a pack animal lugging a burdensome cargo. Perhaps, however, I’m thinking of the wrong beast of burden.

When I think of the sled dogs that are kenneled just west of our mountain town, I realize that even substantial burdens can be borne with joy and not seem heavy. These Alaskan huskies, weighing between 35 and 60 pounds, aren’t very big but a team of eight can easily pull a sled and cargo weighing over 400 pounds. These beautiful dogs have hauled us nearly effortlessly through the mountains.

Before the sleds appear from the storage shed, the more than 100 dogs quietly rest or enjoy some cuddling from their future passengers. Once the sleds begin to appear, however, it’s another story. As the dogs are being selected for teams, the noise is nearly deafening. Jerking at their chains, the dogs leap and loudly bark as if to say, “Take me, take me!” While the huskies are being harnessed to the sleds, the sleds must be chained to posts to keep the dogs from pulling them out on the trail before they are fully loaded. Pulling a load is an instinct for them; it’s what they are meant to do and they love every minute of it. In fact, it’s almost impossible to hold them back once they’ve gotten started. The dogs are bred for strength, speed, endurance and one other thing: the ability to be a member of a team. For these dogs, carrying a burden is not a chore, it’s a joy, and that’s what carrying one another’s burdens, as part of a team, can and should be for the Christian.

Bonhoeffer’s quote also points out that because the non-Christian (or “pagan”) has neither desire nor willingness to carry another’s load, other people don’t pose a burden. Neither a poodle nor a schnauzer, for example, would look at those sleds and want to be harnessed to them. Once harnessed, rather than pulling it, they’d probably just sit there and do nothing. They’d certainly find no joy in running across the frozen tundra pulling a sled and, in fact, they wouldn’t understand why the huskies enjoy doing it.

“He ain’t heavy, Father, he’s my brother!” was the slogan from Father Flanagan’s Boys Town, founded nearly 100 years ago in Nebraska. Indeed, the burdens of our brothers and sisters are meant to be shared and, when shared, cease to be heavy loads. For the Christian, carrying one another’s burdens becomes a privilege and a joy.

So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up. Therefore, whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone—especially to those in the family of faith. [Galatians 6:9-10 (NLT)]

Give your burdens to the Lord, and he will take care of you. He will not permit the godly to slip and fall. [Psalm 55:22 (NLT)]

The road is long With many a winding turn
That leads us to who knows where Who knows when
But I’m strong Strong enough to carry him
He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother
So on we go His welfare is of my concern
No burden is he to bear We’ll get there
For I know He would not encumber me
He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother
If I’m laden at all I’m laden with sadness
That everyone’s heart Isn’t filled with the gladness
Of love for one another
It’s a long, long road From which there is no return
While we’re on the way to there Why not share
And the load Doesn’t weigh me down at all
He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother
[“He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother” (B. Scott, B. Russell)]

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