Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.
People who work with ocean-going ships will tell you that it’s critical to check the way the cargo load is distributed in the vessel. If the cargo is too heavy, the ship will ride too low in the water and won’t be able to travel at a good speed. If the load is too light, the ship will ride too high in the water and bob like a cork, especially when storms hit. The ship needs the proper amount of cargo for it to make the best progress across the ocean.
Life works like that for Christians too. When our burdens are too heavy, we can become so depressed and weary that we can hardly do our work, much less be a testimony of God’s grace to others. When our burdens are too light, we find it difficult to empathize with others who are carrying a heavy load, or we find ourselves aimless and restless. We need the proper balance between load carrying and load sharing to progress in our Christian walk.
Paul knew this. By commanding us to share each other’s burdens, he was echoing Jesus’ words: “A new command I give you: Love one another” (John 13:34). The apostle warns us not to question the loads of others, thinking we’re better than they are because we don’t have their particular problems. “If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves,” he said (Galatians 6:3). Instead, Paul tells us to examine ourselves, pick up our own loads and help others when we are called to do so.
When we look at problems in marriage, we see the same principle in place: If one spouse is sinking under a load of guilt, troubles or sin, while the other is bobbing around with seemingly no concern, anger and resentment will build. An unbalanced load will only stress and slow down the marital relationship. So to keep moving together in the right direction, we must remain firmly yoked together as we lovingly share each other’s problems and do what we can to help each other deal with them.
But what do we do when our problems become too heavy for the two of us to carry? There may come a time when we need to look for help from others outside the marriage. When we feel overwhelmed by severe problems such as sexual addiction, alcohol abuse or clinical depression, it’s time to get help. Going to a Christian doctor, counselor or pastor is not taking the easy way out—for some, admitting a problem in the marriage is an agonizing first step. But it is a necessary step for many couples that need help adjusting to life’s problems, to a family crisis or simply to each other.
One caution: It is tempting to turn to friends, family and coworkers to vent our marital problems. This is rarely a good idea. Problems inside a marriage can almost never be solved by taking them outside the marriage, unless it’s to a qualified professional. Letting too many people know about our marital struggles just burdens us with the responsibility of keeping others updated. It may force friends or family members to side with one spouse while distancing themselves from the other. And it will drain emotional energy from a marital relationship. Offering our spouses privacy within the marital relationship will keep trust in each other intact and will demonstrate our continued love and respect for each other as we learn better ways of sharing our load.
Valerie Van Kooten