In Galatians 6, we are told to “carry each other’s burdens’ (vs. 2) and then in verse 5 we are instructed that “each one should carry his own load.” It can be confusing. Are we on our own to haul around the daily burdens of life or are we supposed to reach out and help others lift their load?
A “burden” in the Bible, has real weight and significance. It not only can be shared, it ought to be shared. The weight is such that it cannot be reasonably bourn by just one person. Somebody needs to come along side and help carry the encumbrance.
On the other hand, a “load” is something that is personal. It isn’t transferrable to someone else. We might picture the “load” as a personal backpack. Backpacks can be adjusted (the more expensive ones can actually be fitted for a hiker). Some of the weight is supported by the shoulders, but some of the weight rides against your back or along your sides.
Picturing us bearing up under the weight of a personal load (the backpack) makes me think of the passage in Matthew 11 where Jesus discusses rest for the weary. He tells us to take on His yoke and learn from Him. Because He is gentle and humble of heart, He promises that we will find rest for our souls.
Modern suburban life does not understand the intricacies of pulling a plough or setting up a grist mill. But for the first century worker, using beasts of burden to pull a plough or grind corn made great sense. So, Jesus uses that well known activity as a backdrop for a spiritual lesson.
He told His disciples (and you and I) to take up the yoke, a yoke that He described as easy and its burden or load was said to be light. How could a yoke be “easy?” That very heavy wooden plank that was strapped to the back of the donkey or oxen…how could it be perceived as “easy” or in some way comfortable?
Well, what we might not know is that a loving owner would take a block of wood and begin to measure the shoulders of his beast. He would then carve out the wood so that it perfectly fit his donkey or ox. (Picture a backpack fitting at REI.) There would be no friction or sores.
And then that loving owner would pair the young, strong ox with an older animal. The older one knew his way around the fields or the pattern around the mill stone. He knew the pace that would get the job done. He could teach the younger one when to pull and when to pause.
The picture is getting clearer. When we let the Lord fashion our load and trust Him with all the details, we too have an easier time of life. That “load” just fits our situation, our maturity, our life experiences. And more often than not, God pairs us with older, wiser believers who can help us along the way.
Although our backpack might be heavy, we can “carry our own load.” Soon we too can say that His yoke is easy and His burden is light.