If you're like me, you want to help people, but have grown somewhat suspicious of some people's claims to need help. Recently, while reading Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend's book, Boundaries, the authors discuss what the Scripture calls "The Law of Christ." This law is the law to "love one another," as Christ has loved us (John 13:34). In Galatians 6:2, the apostle Paul says that to fulfill that law, we must "bear one another's burdens." Three verses later, however, we also read that "each one shall bear his own load." How do we know when to help bear our neighbor's legitimate burden, and when helping diminishes the person's opportunity for greater personal responsibility? How do we know when helping helps, and when helping hurts?
Cloud and Townsend answer this question by describing the meanings of the Greek words for "burden" and "load." The word "burden" means "excess weight," or too much for one person to carry. "These burdens are like boulders. They can crush us. We shouldn't be expected to carry a boulder by ourselves! It would break our backs! We need help with the boulders - those times of crisis and tragedy in our lives." On the other hand, the Greek word for "load" means "cargo," or "the burden of daily toil." The authors write: "This word describes the everyday things we all need to do. These loads are like knapsacks. Knapsacks are possible to carry. We are expected to carry our own. Problems arise when people act as if their "boulders" are daily loads, and refuse help, or as if their 'daily loads' are boulders they shouldn't have to carry. The results of these two instances are either perpetual pain or irresponsibility." (p. 31)
Mental illness is a boulder! When a person is weighed down with chronic depression, unmanageable mood swings, crippling paranoia and anxiety, obsessive behaviors that defy logic or experience a loss of the ability to discern reality from unreality, that person needs others to help them "bear their burden." Bright Tomorrows is working hard to help people turn their boulders into knapsacks, and thus fulfill the law of Christ!
Jim Grinnell is the Vice-President of Bright Tomorrows, a pastor at Tulsa Christian Fellowship and a Licensed Marital and Family Therapist. He has an M. Div. from ORU and a M.S. in Family Relations from OSU.