BURDENS (Galatians 6:2-5 – Part 1)

Carry each other’s burden; that’s the way to fulfill the Messiah’s law. [Galatians 6:2 (NTE)]

dog sleddingSince we tend to think of burdens as demanding and often unwelcome duties or responsibilities, we’re certainly not anxious to take on a burden, especially one that actually belongs to someone else! Yet, that is exactly what we’re told we must do if we are going to fulfill Christ’s mandate. And what is that command? To love one another in the way God loves us.

Nevertheless, the concept of carrying someone’s burden makes me think of beasts of burden like mules, donkeys, or oxen. I find it hard to associate the joy of Christianity with an image of myself as a pack animal lugging a heavy load for miles on rough terrain or an ox being poked with an ox goad while plowing a rocky field. Then again, recalling the Alaskan huskies kenneled just west of our favorite Colorado mountain town, I realize I might be thinking of the wrong beasts of burden.

For thousands of years, dogs like them have pulled people and goods long distances. Experienced mushers say that sled dogs are born loving to pull and it certainly seemed that way whenever we went dog sledding. When we arrived at their kennel, the dogs were quietly resting by their shelters or enjoying attention from their future passengers. Once the sleds and harnesses were taken from the storage shed, it was another story. The noise was nearly deafening as the dogs pulled at their chains and barked excitedly as if calling, “Take me!” While the teams were being harnessed and hooked up, the sleds had to be chained to posts to keep the eager dogs from pulling them out on the trail prematurely.

Mushers say teaching one of these dogs to pull is unnecessary—just put on a harness, hook him up, and the dog will do the rest! We barely needed to say “mush” to get them moving and it’s almost impossible to hold them back once they get started. For sled dogs, carrying a burden is joy rather than a chore; carrying one another’s burdens should be that way for a Christian, as well.

A non-believer tends to react to other people’s burdens the way a poodle would to the sight of a heavily loaded sled. Unlike a husky, it probably would whine about the cold and snow and resist being harnessed. If you managed to harness up a poodle, it probably would lie down and refuse to move and, if you ever got a team of them harnessed and moving, they’d certainly find no joy in running across the frozen tundra pulling a sled. Poodles probably can’t understand why huskies enjoy mushing but the love of sledding isn’t in their breeding. Non-believers can’t understand a Christian’s willingness to carry another person’s burden either but that’s because they’re not reborn in Christ. Rather than a genetic predisposition, it’s the Holy Spirit who enables us to love others enough to willingly and joyfully carry their burdens.

When thinking of those dogs so eager to pull us through the mountains, I realize that even substantial burdens can be borne without great difficulty, especially when it’s a team effort. Indeed, the burdens of our brothers and sisters are meant to be shared and, when shared, they cease to be a heavy load for anyone. For the Christian, carrying one another’s burdens isn’t a chore; it’s a privilege and a joy. One musher described his team this way, “They just live their life the way they love to live it…a life that they can be proud of.” Shouldn’t the same be said of us?

Whoever is spared personal pain must feel himself called to help in diminishing the pain of others. We must all carry our share of the misery which lies upon the world. [Albert Schweitzer]

I’m giving you a new commandment, and it’s this: love one another! Just as I have loved you, so you must love one another. This is how everybody will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for each other. [John 13:34-35 (NTE)]

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