Yokes

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July 2, 2014 by Pastor Ben McIntire

I’m so tired! I’m exhausted! I’m stressed out! These are probably the most common complaints that I hear in daily life. For most of us reading this blog, hunger is not a life or death issue—most of us have decent places to live, clothes to wear, internet access (a new necessity of life, surely!)… Our basic necessities are sufficiently met, maybe they’re not always as good as we would like, but for the most part, we have the things we need to survive. But the one thing that we seem to always be short on is rest. There are 3 kinds of rest that we need: physical, mental, and spiritual. Our lives are so busy, so fast-paced, so jam-packed with activities, it is no wonder that it can be difficult to feel well-rested and energized. This is the place where Christ speaks to us saying, “Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

Linus

 

We’re like that old Peanuts cartoon, where Linus clutches his old, familiar blanket and says, “Only one yard of flannel stands between me and a nervous breakdown!”

Mia pacifier

 

A young mother was describing a terrible day she had experienced. The washing machine broke down, the telephone kept ringing, her head ached, and the mail carrier brought a bill she had no money to pay. Almost to the breaking point, she lifted her one-year-old son into his high-chair, leaned her head against the tray, and began to cry. Without a word, her son took his pacifier out of his mouth, and stuck it in hers.

 

Stress and fatigue go with the pressures of modern life.  Some of this is due to work.  Some of you spend your days doing manual labor or at least on your feet all day long.  I’ve had jobs like that, working in restaurants, working in a warehouse, selling books door-to-door, and as a chaplain at the VA hospital in Minneapolis. When you are done with a day of physical work, your muscles, feet and back ache—and you know that you have accomplished something. This physical strain on the body requires rest. You need to sleep, otherwise you might collapse on the job. You also need time away from that work to let your body recuperate. That’s tough for ranchers and farmers, there are chores that have to be done, whether you are tired or not. But it is for this reason that God created the Sabbath, to teach us that we were not made for unending work—and that we are to take time for rest. Jesus says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 28:-30).

That’s a comforting thought isn’t it?  But what does it mean? Imagine the kind of yoke Jesus was describing. It was a kind of crossbar with two U-shaped pieces that fit over the necks of a pair of oxen. What Jesus is saying is that when we are yoked to him, he walks beside us and helps us bear our burdens. We don’t have to bear the weight of our world by ourselves.

yoke

This imagery can be very comforting when we suffer from mental fatigue. For some people, mental fatigue can be even more draining than physical work. Maybe you work in an office and are sitting all day long, yet you are still exhausted when you return home after the days efforts. See if you know what I mean: have you ever been SO exhausted, that when you lie down in bed you cannot fall asleep?  There are a fourteen-thousand things going on in your mind, things at the office, family problems, bills you are worried about, some grudge you still hold, what you should have said during that argument… all the cares of the world—and you cannot fall asleep.

It’s said that during the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln was out riding with his aide Noah Brooks.  Brooks, noticing the president’s obvious fatigue, suggested that he take a brief rest when they got back to the White House. “A rest,” Lincoln replied. “I don’t know about a rest. I suppose it’s good for the body, but the tired part of me is inside and out of reach.” President Lincoln was acknowledging a very important truth. There are many sources of fatigue, and physical tiredness may actually be the most benign.  Unless you have really overdone it physically, exercise and a tired body can actually help you get a good, peaceful night of sleep. But emotional and mental fatigue actually keeps you awake. That’s when we get really, really tired.

Rosalie, a member from my internship church in the Black Hills, told me about a cure for this kind of mental strain at bedtime. Rather than lying awake with all the worries and cares of life, she says, “I’m just going to give all this over to the Lord. He’ll be up all night anyway” How right she is! In the words of Psalm 121, “He who watches over you will neither slumber nor sleep.”

Our faith in Christ helps us deal with these more serious causes of fatigue. When we are yoked to Jesus we no longer have to prove to the world that we belong. That is what brings on spiritual fatigue. Most of us harbor insecurities about our own self-worth. Insecurity makes everything we do more difficult. American consumer culture and advertising often prey upon these insecurities and bombard us with messages of lack, deficiency, and status. In response we spend an enormous amount of treasure and energy trying to be something we are not, expecting too much from ourselves, trying to belong and fit in with “everyone else,” feeling that our lives have little value or they are not good enough.  Some people feel like they are failures who can never measure up. Others are perfectionists who keep striving long after it is necessary for things to be done just so. Still others suffer constantly from extreme guilt over the past, things done and left undone. We often place ourselves under intolerable burdens that we cannot possibly live up to. These expectations and worries produce both stress and fatigue. To be able to relax and be ourselves is one of the greatest benefits our faith gives us.

Soren Kierkegaard, a Danish philosopher who suffered from extreme bouts of melancholy, one day wrote in his journal, “And now, with God’s help, I shall become myself.” What a liberating thought! With God’s help, you can simply be yourself. Not what you think you should be, or what others expect you to be. No, with God’s help, you will become who you really are. No more stressful pretenses, no more misguided striving and perfectionism.  Relax and be yourself. When you are able to hear the promise of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, you will experience the true freedom of becoming yourself. You are yoked to Jesus, and you no longer have to prove to the world that you belong. You are yoked to Jesus, and that means that you are loved, accepted, and forgiven. The past is in the past, your sins have been forgiven, your future is in the hands of the One who has numbered even the hairs on your head and who never slumbers or sleeps.

There is an ancient legend, from Israel 2,000 years ago. It says that all the farmers in the region knew where to get the finest yokes for their oxen. There was a certain carpenter in the town of Nazareth who was famed for shaping and smoothing the wood so that the burden on their oxen would be as light as possible.

Christ is still in the business of fashioning yokes to ease the burdens of his weary children. He says to you, “Come to me, all you weary and heavy burdened, I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Prayer:

Dear Heavenly Father, help me to release my death-grip on the worries, burdens, and sins that are literally killing me. Help me to take up your yoke and remember that you care for me and walk with me all the days of my life. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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Pastor Ben serves at St. Mark Lutheran Church (ELCA) in Storm Lake, Iowa.

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