People can be messy. Groups are messy. When problems, trauma and red-flag patterns arise in the group, how can we show we care without burning out?
Some circumstances, like trauma, death, an endangered marriage are easy to identify. But other situations, like poor mental health or recurring poor lifestyle choices can creep in subtly. These can be taxing on if they aren’t handled in a healthy, biblical way.
Galatians 6:1-5 (NIV) helps us understand healthy principles for caring for people.
“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 should carry their own load.”
If we understand the “law of Christ” to mean “love one another as I (Christ) have loved you,” then it helps to see the difference between the Greek word for “burden” (aros) and “load” (phortion) used.
Bearing Each Other’s Burdens
According to this passage, we are to bear one another’s burdens. In this sense a burden refers to suffering or something bigger than we can handle on our own. Our opportunity here is to come alongside and support a person emotionally or in practical ways. We can do this by listening to them, encouraging them, praying with the man who is struggling at work, bringing meals to a mom who just had a baby or helping a single parent with yardwork before selling a house.
Carrying Our Own Load
Is helping someone always helping them? Depending on our personality, spiritual gifts and maturity in healthy boundaries, your natural response might be different than mine.
The Greek word used for “load” in this same passage refers to the everyday things we all need to do. Our nature and experiences might condition our response; however, this passage is clear that each person is responsible for carrying our own load of tasks and issues. When we take responsibility for another’s problems, we could hinder their God-given sense of self-ownership, dignity and self-esteem.
So what are we responsible for as leaders and group members?
Gathering directives peppered throughout the New Testament, we can see a holistic picture.
- Loving one another (John 13:34; I Corinthians 13))
- Asking thoughtful questions – Jesus asked many (Luke 8:25;30; Matthew 20:21;32; Matthew 21:28)
- Being devoted to and honouring one another (Romans 12:10)
- Living in harmony with each other (Romans 12:16)
- Being considerate of where each person is in their story (1 Corinthians 10:32)
- Be gentle, with a heart for healing (Galatians 6:1)
- Serving each other (Galatians 5:13)
- Submitting to each other (Ephesians 5:21)
- Bearing with each other (James 1:19)
- Not being easily offended or angered (James 1:19)
- Being ready to listen and slow to speak (James 1:19)
- Avoiding being an unnecessary burden to others (2 Corinthians 12:14, 1 Thessalonians 2:9, Hebrews 13:17)
- Helping one another understand how to let God bear the burdens (Psalm 68:19; Psalm 55:12)
- Remember that we can have peace as Jesus freed us from burdens (Matthew 11; Galatians 5; 1 Peter 5:7)
What are we not responsible for?
- Making people happy
- Fixing each other’s problems
- The way a person reacts, thinks or behaves
- Controlling someone else’s decisions or spiritual growth
So why aren’t we responsible for solving someone else’s problem or making them happy?
Naturally, we like to avoid the pain of struggle. But pain, not the circumstance, is an indicator that something isn’t right. Until we face the pain of deeper issues like victimization, neglect or poor choices, problems will still remain. Admitting and surrendering what we’ve been trying to control and fix our own lives is part of letting old self die and we can begin experiencing new life. (John 12:24) It’s true for us. And it’s true of our group members, friends and family, as hard as it can be to watch sometimes.
In our groups, we get to nurture three elements that help put our role in leading and caring for our group members into perspective:
- Relationships – as meaningful relationships develop, the group figures out how to support and care for each other
- Growth – we encourage all individuals towards growing to be more of who God made them to be
- Invitation – we think beyond ourselves by serving, comforting and inviting others to share the joy of our experience
God created us with a need for relationships (love and belonging) and significance (purpose and value). However, no one and nothing can truly meet that need until Christ fulfills it (Colossians 1:27). Often our substitutions for Jesus (accomplishments, financial security, human love, etc) are what produce our problems.
As leaders, we get to model and use the opportunities of bearing burdens and maintaining healthy boundaries to encourage our group members further along this journey of becoming more like Christ.