Are You Carrying Someone Else’s Knapsack?

BoundariesWe are responsible to others and for ourselves. “Carry each other’s burdens,” says Galatians 6:2, “and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” This verse shows our responsibility to one another.

Many times, others have “burdens” that are too big to bear. They do not have enough strength, resources, or knowledge to carry the load, and they need help. Denying ourselves to do for others what they cannot do for themselves is showing the sacrificial love of Christ. This is what Christ did for us. He did what we could not do for ourselves; he saved us. This is being responsible “to.”

On the other hand, Galatians 6:5 says that “each one should carry his own load.” Everyone has responsibilities that only he or she can carry. These things are our own particular “load” that we need to take daily responsibility for and work out. No one can do certain things for us. We have to take ownership of certain aspects of life that are our own “load.”

The Greek words for burden and load give us insight into the meaning of these texts. The Greek word for burden means “excess burdens,” or burdens that are so heavy that they weigh us down. These burdens are like boulders. They can crush us. We shouldn’t be expected to carry a boulder by ourselves! It would break our backs. We need help with the boulders — those times of crisis and tragedy in our lives.

In contrast, the Greek word for load means “cargo,” or “the burden of daily toil.” This word describes the everyday things we all need to do. These loads are like knapsacks. Knapsacks are possible to carry. We are expected to carry our own. We are expected to deal with our own feelings, attitudes, and behaviors, as well as the responsibilities God has given to each one of us, even though it takes effort.


Click to Tweet: In addition to showing us what we are responsible for, boundaries help us to define what is not on our property and what we are not responsible for.


Problems arise when people act as if their “boulders” are daily loads, and refuse help, or as if their “daily loads” are boulders they shouldn’t have to carry. The results of these two instances are either perpetual pain or irresponsibility.

Lest we stay in pain or become irresponsible, it is very important to determine what “me” is, where my boundary of responsibility is and where someone else’s begins. The Bible tells us clearly what our parameters are and how to protect them, but often our family, or other past relationships, confuses us about our parameters.

In addition to showing us what we are responsible for, boundaries help us to define what is not on our property and what we are not responsible for. We are not, for example, responsible for other people. Nowhere are we commanded to have “other-control,” although we spend a lot of time and energy trying to get it!


Learn the difference between burdens and boulders in The New York Times bestseller, Boundaries. You can set limits with other people and still be a loving person. Discover when to say yes and how to say no in any situation. Learn More

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  1. Sally Shores says

    Often when an individual tries to carry another’s load (knapsack) they are enabling the other (well-meaning or not). It can result in crippling the other or making them dependent. It can also lead to the other never taking responsibility or owning one’s situation. The person might start a habit of looking to others to rescue them, or pointing a finger and blaming something, or someone else.

    There will always be a time and place for reaching out to support and care for those that are in need ( heavy burdens). The key is to know when you are offering help and compassion, and when you are enabling.

    • tricia says

      I am having about people who choose to do full time ministries and have children and live in the states and want support . I want to help . Just not sure . we tithe, give to another minstry its not alot but we do alot at our church and it seems it would be to much how do you know for sure , what questions do you ask yourself and them,

    • Angell HW says

      Agreed! I have seen someone become dependent (like you said) on someone else carrying their load. I, myself, have done this with someone close to me. It was someone who was willing to constantly help me carry my ” emotional load” for years, so I let them. It felt wonderful and right at first because I was a teenager and didn’t know any better. Then as that person grew up and grew weary, I grew angry that they weren’t able to carry my “load” anymore. Dependency (on anything other than God) can make one very manipulative, clingy, desperate, etc. It definitely crippled me (as you also pointed out) and was something I had to seek God diligently to recover from. The other person is still recovering as well..and so is our relationship. This article is extremely insightful.

  2. Juanita Lindsey says

    Sally, Thank you so much for sharing that! I truly believe that I am an “enabler”. I am not sure why or how it happened but I am pretty sure I am. This is God, once again, showing me His love and guidance through people like you. God bless you. Thanks.

  3. Dee says

    What about adult children who have overall responsibility for a demanding, elderly parent with a lot of health problems, a rather self-centered view of the world, and is from a culture that expects their children will put them first?

    • sandy says

      I wish I had an answer. I spent 10 years in that very position. I never set any boundaries and I gave more than I had, emotionally and physically and I will pay the price for the rest of my life. Please, try to find some help, some friends. Don’t give all of yourself away bc you will need you. Talk to her dr, see if senior info resourse, try a church (they have much info about places to get help, even if you don’t go to church) I’m telling you what I wish I had done, not what I did. Find help. Don’t give up and don’t be wonder woman. I wish you the best.

  4. June says

    I think carrying another person’s burden is not easy. When I was caring for my mum who was suffering from Alzheimer’s, in the beginning it did feel like a boulder to me. But God gave me strength when I was weak. Church friends prayed for me. That was all I needed. I had to carry this myself and eventually it became lighter. His grace is sufficient for me:)

    • Angell HW says

      God bless you for your sacrificial love in caring for your mom. That truly is bearing another’s burden.I am a Patient Care Advocate, so I get a close up look at the life of a caregiver every day. It definitely is only done by God’s grace.

  5. Pam Rodgers says

    Please pray for my daughter, Sadie. She is planing to go to Morocco on Nov 11 2017- to meet for first time in person a man she met online. She is planning to stay with him and his parents for 90 days and sign “marriage “ papers. I continually pray for God to block these plans. Sadie is 28 chronologically yet emotionally more like a 20 year old. Dependent 100 percent on me and my husband financially and going with expectations of being financially dependent on this young man, Issa from Meknes.

    Please pray for me to trust God more that if he allows a
    This to take place, He is God, control of her life is His not mine. I need boundaries to trust God and be anxious for nothing but in everything by prayer and supplication make my request for my daughter’s safety known to God. And the peace of God, which passes ALL understanding will guide our my heart and mind in Christ Jesus. Thank you so very much for yfor your prayers.


    • Davida says

      If she is 100% dependent on you financially, why are you giving her the money to go to Morocco? This is not something to take lightly and could very well be putting her in danger. It is good to pray and put her in God’s hands, however, you might need to make the decision to pull the funding from this sketchy endeavor so you are not enabling her behavior.

    • Angell HW says

      Just prayed for you. I hope all of this has been resolved according to God’s good, perfect, acceptable will, already.

  6. Vicky says

    I will pray for your family and for Sadie to make good choices. I have a 28 year old daughter, too, and understand your concerns about this situation. I would not assist financially with this venture. Prayers.

  7. Leslie Ballis says

    I live in a apartment complex where on my side 3/4 of the people are elderly.A couple are handicapped,another has Alzheimer’s. I used to take the one with Alzheimer’s to church, plus help one with her oxygen and walker to get in the car,get the electric scooter for her when wee would go shopping, ect.It was physically getting exhausting to do it ,take care of both when we went to church.Plus,the lady with Alzheimer’s wanders,and has a sister who would shove all the responsibility of her sister on everyone else with the exception of taking her shopping, and to Dr.appointments pretty much expected us to do the rest.I honestly couldn’t do it anymore, and let her sister know that, and that the rest of us were not either.,because we were being made a crutch.So now because I have set boundaries,according to some,I am a bad Christian.

    • says

      From page 151 in BOUNDARIES: “When the Bible tells us to comfort with the comfort with which we are comforted (2 Cor. 1:4), it’s telling us something. We need to be comforted before we can comfort. That may mean setting boundaries on our ministries so that we can be nurtured by our friends. We must distinguish between the two.”

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