To Bear or Not to Bear: That is the Question, Part 1 of 4

A series of Christian reflections on the application of biblical principles to the art of living.


Bear one another’s burdens…all must carry their own loads (Galatians 6.2a, 5)

So advises the Apostle Paul. In immediate reaction to this seemingly contradictory counsel, my imagination takes flight in a paraphrase of Hamlet’s familiar and poignant inquiry:

To be(ar) or not to be(ar): that is the question:

Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer

The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune (to befall another),

Or to take arms against a sea of troubles (on behalf of another)…

Why such apparent doublespeak? I don’t think that Paul (as I might) wrote one thing, then rethought it and, thinking better of it, changed his mind. Nor did Paul (also as I might), betraying a fundamental fuzziness of thought, seek to “cover all the bases.”

Rather, in my view, Paul highlights two principal parts in the complex equation of human relationships. To “bear one another’s burdens” and “all carrying their own loads” underscores an age-old concern which, expressed in more modern terms, involves establishing and maintaining appropriate personal boundaries.

In a word, how do we relate one to another in community? Whether that community be that of our intimate partnerships, the wider circle of our blood relations, the numerous spheres of our social and political associations, those geographically proximate alliances of people gathered in nations, or those covenantal societies in search of transcendent meaning, verily, religious communities.

Again, I ask: How do we relate?

More to come…

© 2021 PRA

3 thoughts on “To Bear or Not to Bear: That is the Question, Part 1 of 4

  1. OK, Paul. You’ve got me hooked on the question now. And I’m ruminating on what my own response might be. I’m looking forward to the next installment, because I believe you’re highlighting one of the questions that is absolutely essential for the tense and crucial moment that humanity finds itself in. Whether in Myanmar, in Russia, across the English Channel, along our own southern border, in the aisle between the parties in the House of Representatives in DC (and in the deep ravine down the middle of at least one of those parties), in the State of California, at the intersection of 38th and Chicago in Minneapolis, or around our own family dinner tables, we all, whether we recognize it or not, face the question you have posed. How do we answer it?

    Anticipating in trepidation and hope….



  2. Paul,

    I’m with Karen, I can’t wait for the remaining installments…

    I’m already thinking of adding a few of your thoughts in one of my presentations (I’ll ask for permission first) because in caregiving we are asked to seek help of others when we need it to avoid burnout….But most people HATE to ask for help because so many believe we are indeed supposed to carry our own burdens. I remember once when you had lots of meetings and asked me to take some meds to your Mom at Ms. Mamie’s. Of course I said I would, and you said “thank you for helping me to carry this”… I thought, I’m just taking some meds it’s no big deal. But now I know that without Tim and my sister the few times I’ve had to ask someone to get something for my Mom if I was out of town I did at time feel as if I was crossing a boundary. It compounds the issue if you don’t have close family to help.

    Looking forward to part 2.

    Much love!


  3. My beloved Karen and Loretta, as one who thinks (or, at the least, thinks that he thinks!), oft an idea will occur to me. In this case, in reading and reflecting afresh on Galatians 6, I was struck by the seeming contradiction in Paul’s counsel. So, I started to write, and then, not sure where I was going, I stopped.

    This is the process (or, perhaps, better said, lack of process, for there is no inherent given direction or destination) through and from which my varied subject-series come. All this is to say, that once I begin, I am compelled to pray and to think and to feel.

    And, oddly enough, in this case, I chose 4-parts (or, rather, the number four was given to me; this aspect of my thinking/writing is difficult to explain; even from me to me!). So, let’s see where we go and end up!

    And, yes, Karen, the issue at the heart of it all is applicable to any and all circumstances; for any and all circumstances pertain to our human relationships. And, yes, Loretta, without family and friends to help, getting and giving help is a more, a far more difficult life’s matter.



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