You might think I let you off the hook last week. After all, I aimed most of the responsibility for getting through a difficult time at the person going through the struggle.
And I stand by everything I said. [If you missed it, you may want to go back and read it first by clicking here.]
But the picture I presented was incomplete. I hinted at a bigger picture a couple of times, but I never went into more detail — in part because the post was already about 30% longer than I like to put out for you to read.
This is a huge topic, one that gets a lot of us into trouble. We hurt friends and family members, often inadvertently or because we too are hurting.
So let’s explore the other side of the issue. What if you see a friend struggling? How much are you responsible for them?
Reviewing what the Bible says.
Let’s start by reviewing what the Bible says about our responsibility toward others.
Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. 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. Galatians 6:1-5
You may remember from last week that when Paul says we’re to carry each other’s burdens, he uses the word baros (bar’ os) which means literally a heavy weight someone is required to carry a long distance.
And when Paul says each one should carry their own load, he uses the word phortion (for tee’ on) which means a pilgrim’s backpack.
So each of us is responsible for our own stuff, but when a boulder-sized problem hits, we should reach out and help each other.
That seems simple enough, but remember I mentioned that some people have trouble discerning between backpacks and boulders. And some people over pack. And some people refuse to let go of hurts or disappointments that weigh down their backpack more than it needs to be.
None of this is easy!
And we can’t forget boundaries, especially when defining our responsibility to others.
If you’ve not read the book Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life by Henry Cloud and John Townsend, then you need to grab a copy and start reading. It’s one of the few books I think everyone should read at least once.
Much like a surveyor defines where your property ends and your neighbor’s begins, Boundaries helps you define what you should be responsible for in life. And what your neighbor (or spouse, or child, or parents, etc.) is responsible for.
Our friend’s baros
So, let’s say you see a friend struggling with what you believe to be a baros-sized problem. What do you do? That’s a bad question. It’s normal and the one most of us would default to without thinking. But the right question is this: What does God want you to do?
Some of you just dismissed me, rolling your eyes and thinking, “Well, we know that, Carrie. Get on with telling me what to do.”
But, you see, I can’t. At least, not outside of reminding you to pray for them, which you should be doing anyway.
God allowed that baros for some reason, a reason that meets His perfectly wise purposes.
Maybe He allowed it to get their attention because He warned them of the dangers and they stubbornly moved forward anyway. Isn’t that what He did time and time again to the Israelites in the Old Testament?
Maybe He allowed it because He knows that adversity is the best way we grow. I sometimes wonder how Jonah changed after the death of the plant at the end of his book.
Maybe He allowed it because what will come from it is far greater than anything we can imagine. I think of Mary and Joseph and their unplanned pregnancy of Jesus.
My point is that we don’t know what God is up to, but He does. And He loves to give wisdom when we ask.
At times God’s simply had me stand back and pray. Other times He’s had my husband and I anonymously donate funds or pay a bill. Once God asked me to send a card once a week for several weeks just to remind my friend I was thinking of her.
This is a journey in trust for you, trusting God to provide the perfect answer that will mean the most to the one you love. And I’m often amazed at both the simplicity of what God asks and the results I see when I obey.
Perhaps the biggest chunk of responsibility on us is that we must be paying attention. We can’t be so caught up in our own world that the pain and difficulties all around us gets lost in the stress and busyness of everyday life.
What if the response is negative?
Some of you may be thinking of a particular person or situation where you tried to do what you thought God was asking of you, and it turned soured. The person rejected you or turned against you.
I had one friend who ended up choosing what I knew was a dangerous path, but I loved and supported her for as long as I could, until one day she was too toxic. I had to walk away for the safety of my children and my own health.
Another friend began talking to others behind my back, accusing me of all kinds of sorts of deception. It hurt deeply, and I had to distance myself from her so that I would not return in kind.
These are particularly hard situations. One of the blessings of being made in God’s image is that we have free will, but that also means that people can make choices we don’t like. Choices God doesn’t like. Choices that aren’t good for them.
But that’s not our responsibility.
Your phortion — your backpack — includes praying to ask God for wisdom on what to do and being obedient in doing what God said. That’s it.
The other person’s response is between them and God.
So now what do you think: How much are you responsible for others?
Now that we’ve looked at both sides of the responsibility question, what do you think? It’s a lot to think through, but the rewards of being involved in the lives of others are tremendous — when we do it God’s way.