During my recent travels I was reminded of the cardinal sin of traveling. “Do not pick up someone else’s bag from the luggage carousel. Please check the tag to be sure that this bag is actually yours, as many bags look alike.” The airport intercom droned on and on repeatedly everywhere I went. Oh if only that rule held for the rest of our lives!
It is so very tempting for us to pick up (and own) other people’s baggage! In fact, we are often encouraged, even urged, to take it as our own. Some have even been called “unchristian” when we don’t. This causes those of us who want to be good and compassionate Christians, no end of angst and sleepless nights. We watch as our friends’ or family’s baggage go ‘round and ‘round the carousel with the owner standing by seemingly helpless to retrieve it. The pressure to pick it up and carry their baggage (aka their problems) increases with each minute. So we debate with ourselves: “Perhaps it is not so heavy… Perhaps we could juggle one more thing… Perhaps they just need a hand getting it off the carousel… Isn’t it the loving thing to pick it up?
The answer is NO! There is a difference between caring about and caring for. Time and time again we discover to our dismay that once we pick someone else’s baggage off life’s carousel, it is extremely hard and awkward to get the owner to take it back. Only resisting the temptation to grab it in the first place can help us avoid many unpleasant (and sometimes relationship destroying) pitfalls later.
Jesus was totally loving and compassionate. He was also very careful never to take ownership of another person’s issues, problems, or baggage. Even though Jesus’ mission was to save the world, He was consistent and clear about honoring each person’s right to choose to change, or not. Those who were willing were empowered, those who were not, were loved anyway.
Daily He was besieged by those whose situations were difficult. Leprosy, blindness, poor people skills, social ostracism, sin, craziness, poor ethics, egotism, paralysis, poverty, and self-importance were but a few of the issues that were laid at Jesus’ feet to handle.
In each case, His question to them was, “What do you want from me?” Oh, if we would only remember to ask that question before reaching out our hand to grab a problem. This simple question was miraculous. Firstly it honored the each person’s own ability to know their need. Secondly it revealed whether they wanted to be “cared about” or “cared for.” If what they really wanted was to have Jesus to take full responsibility for their problems and issues, they went away unsatisfied. On the surface, Jesus unwillingness to assume their plight seems anything but caring. However, Jesus understood that truly caring about someone involves not removing them from the equation. He would gladly care about them by helping them own and solve their issues with God’s help. Listening, brainstorming, praying, and encouraging are all effective tools to care about someone. Caring for aka picking up and making another’s bag of problems our own, is not loving like Jesus. Encouraging them to let God help them is. As we stand by the carousel of life, perhaps we can hear Jesus announcing, “Do not pick up someone else’s bag from the luggage carousel. Please check the tag to be sure that this bag is actually yours, as many bags look alike.”