I don’t know about you, but I needed this Gospel message this week. “Come to me all who are weary and carrying heavy burdens.” Thank you, Jesus!
Earlier this week I posted on Facebook: “You know you love your vocation when you’re willing to go through all that moving requires.” This week has been the climax of the Milford Family Move, and I’m happy to report that we are 99.8% complete, to be 100% by tomorrow night. Both our movers and my family can attest that we are–quite literally–heavy laden. The driver and head mover said he actually thought about weighing the trailer holding our belongings because he was certain it was one of his heavier loads. (Apparently we have a lot of books.) He kept saying we didn’t have a lot of furniture, but we had a lot of “stuff.” So these last couple of weeks especially, we’ve been busy packing all of our stuff. So busy, in fact, that we’ve had epic to-do lists and plans that start from first thing in the morning until we can’t stay awake any longer at night. Moves can be stressful and all-occupying like that, putting us in a kind of crisis mode, but there’s the tendency to live life that that, isn’t there? Cram as much into a day as it can hold, fill every moment with actionable items, even good deeds, and check every item off as the day turns to night, moving unaccomplished tasks to the next day’s list, if the opportunity still exists. Even when we’re on vacation, the tendency is to pack our itinerary as full of adventures as our bodies and budgets can hold. And we can do pretty well, being the self-reliant busy-bodies we are, but spinning at this breakneck speed isn’t sustainable. Eventually, balls start to drop, and things get off kilter. Suddenly we realize we’ve gotten too self-reliant and maybe even too self-absorbed. Maybe we’re just sharing with others the good deeds we manage to pull off or the highlights of the trip, editing out of our timelines how weary and heavy laden we are. We are as loaded down as my mover’s trailer, holding all the boxes filled to the brim with the stuff of life.
Fortunately, we don’t have to contend with life on our own: we have a life partner and savior in Jesus Christ.
Now, don’t think I’m saying that we all have to consider ourselves married to Jesus; rather, consider a life lived in relationship with Jesus. In God’s triune nature, God shows us that a life fully lived is in relationship, and we are commanded to love God and one another as ourselves. So, we get through life in relationship–not in isolation. I said we didn’t have to think of ourselves as married to Jesus, but there are benefits to thinking about an intimate relationship to Jesus, intimate in a whole-hearted devotion kind of way. Can we dare to be in a loving relationship with God, living with Jesus as our true life partner?
When we think of our marriage vows in the church, mutual joy and respect are big ticket items. There’s no force or coercion but mutual consent, as in Rebekah’s apparent willingness to be Isaac’s wife. Even with God’s favor, she’s given a choice, and we have her words of consent, something we don’t always hear from women in our narratives. Mutuality, devotion, and affection play a tremendous role in successful relationships, as does open and honest communication.
Reading my friend Jerusalem Greer’s book At Home in This Life, I came across the story she shares about her and her husband’s vision of what their hoped-for future farm would look like. Really, it focused on the barn and the hill behind the barn. She pictured a hill covered in wildflowers and a barn renovated to entertain, complete with a huge farm table and a dance floor. He pictured a hill covered in crops, abundant with fruits and veggies, and a barn full of tractor and tools for the work of the land. Both visions and hopes were equally valid but at complete odds and resulted in an epic battle of the wills that they took right on into their marital therapist’s office. Their ideas weren’t on the same page or even in the same book, but the therapist asked them an important question: “Would you want this farm if you weren’t married? Would you want to go for it alone?” What they both realized, even if for different reasons, was that they wouldn’t make the move if they weren’t together. They realized what might sound cliché but what many of us find to be true in our long-term relationships: that they were actually better together.
But it’s hard to be in relationship, even with ourselves, let alone with God and everyone else, and it doesn’t always work out. I think Paul pretty much nails it when he says that he does what he shouldn’t do and can’t do what he should, even when it’s what he wants to do. Basically, it’s easier to do bad than good. Talking with people who are incarcerated, any time we talked about getting on the right path, the folks would talk about how hard it was, and how much easier it is just to do what most likely got them in jail in the first place. I read a review of the Despicable Me 3 movie, and the author mentions that her 5-year-old child wondered whether the main character Gru was a good guy or a bad guy because our lives are often sorted into the good-evil dichotomy. Gru is a villain, but apparently in this movie (which I haven’t seen yet), he’s actually trying to do good, to be a good family guy however dysfunctional the family is, even as he’s planning a robbery. Lives are complicated, and since our perspectives can be skewed, it’s best to focus on ourselves, leaving off the judgment and focusing on the loving others bit . . . because their lives are just as complicated as ours are.
When we realize that we’re becoming awfully judgmental, overly cranky, or completely imbalanced–or whatever your symptoms are when life is out of whack–it’s helpful to remember that we already have a Savior who has not only invited us into an eternal relationship but who also gives us the grace to save us from ourselves. God knows we can’t do everything on our own, but we don’t always know it. When life gets busy, it’s easy to crowd out the prayer time that’s set aside. When there are a million things to do, sitting down to read or write a note or make a phone call or gaze out the window seem like frivolous tasks. They seem “frivolous” when my life isn’t grounded in prayer, when I’ve lost touch of the stillness at the center of my being that resounds loudly with the importance of maintaining my relationship with God and others. Only when I take my focus off of some of the spinning plates and breathe deeply and gaze into the eyes of others or off into the distance, only then do I take time to value my own well-being enough to cherish fully those around me. With this sense of being, when life does get overly full, I hear the words of my Savior calling to me, reminding me, promising me.
The “yoke” is often a rabbinic metaphor for the difficult yet joyous task of obedience to the Torah. I think of the yoke of Christ as being the command to love, to delight in His will and walk in His way–something easy and natural for the Son of God and made easier for us when we are oriented toward God and fully surrendered into a life of obedience to God’s will. Therein lies our salvation.
So, if like me, you were starting to get a little off balance with your expectations or self-imposed demands, remember that God hasn’t called us to save the world with our love or deeds because Jesus Christ has already done that. We have to love God and one another as ourselves with deep devotion and pure affection. Jesus Christ is with us as our eternal life partner and Savior to help us and show us the way. Especially when we need it–and even when we don’t know how much we need it–Jesus calls us to come to him and find rest for our souls, and that is Good News, indeed.