“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.” This has to be one of my favorite sayings of Jesus. My ears always perk up when anyone tells me I can relax. These consoling words of Jesus follow the more challenging statements he makes in recent Gospels, in which he talks about the demands of being one of his followers, how it’s not always easy; “take up your cross and follow me.”
Just when his disciples might be having second thoughts, Jesus makes clear to them that “taking up their cross” – “taking his yoke upon their shoulders” – is actually not as bad as it might sound at first. In fact, if we are willing to learn from him, and become meek and humble of heart like him, then the yoke of the Cross will be easy and the burden of following Christ in this life will be light.
What a refreshing, consoling message for all of us! Under normal circumstances, life is pretty hectic. And life for many people has been fairly fraught in the past few months due to all the upheaval in the world. How wonderful it is to hear Jesus promise to lead us to a place of true rest and peace.
One sentiment I had heard some people express during the shutdown was that, while on the one hand there have been challenges, on the other hand they have had more time to relax, be with their families, perhaps work on various projects around the house they haven’t been able to do for a long time because they were always so busy. Suddenly, so many of the commitments and the things that would make life so hectic were cancelled, and they found the slower pace refreshing. Some have even said that they want to somehow maintain that slower pace in future.
Let’s face it: modern life has gotten very fast-paced and hectic. I think everyone realizes it; and most people don’t like that pace, but we feel there’s nothing we can do about it, so we just try to keep up with all the demands, all the appointments, meetings, practices, games, and so on. And it’s not like all of these things are bad, it’s just that there are so many of them, and they seem to happen all the time.
And then there’s the curse of rising expectations: it seems like in recent decades, everything has got to be bigger, better, faster, more. A night-out-on-the town bachelor or bachelorette party isn’t enough anymore apparently: now it’s got to be a weekend away in Vegas or Florida or New York. A guy can’t just ask a girl to prom; now you have to have an elaborate “prom-posal”. In the 1950s, the average square footage of a house was about 1000 square feet; now it’s about 2500 square feet, even as families have gotten smaller. And then there’s the crazy rat race of social media, trying to keep up with what everyone is doing, trying to project a carefully curated image of yourself to the world to make your life look amazing. It’s exhausting, and it’s not even fulfilling.
But life doesn’t have to be that way. “Come to me,” Jesus says, “all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart, and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.” Jesus is telling us that we can step out of that raging river of modern life in the 21st century. It’s OK to say no sometimes; it’s OK to miss out; it’s OK to not be able to make it to every event, however important they might seem.
We don’t have to live to impress anyone else. In fact, trying to impress others will only leave you exhausted, anxious, and unfulfilled. Step out of that river and tell yourself it doesn’t matter whether anyone is impressed with your life or not. Don’t worry if you don’t know what everyone else is doing all the time. And we don’t need that much “stuff” to be happy either – it’s amazing how little we really need. We don’t need the best jobs, the nicest cars, the biggest houses. Those things only become heavy burdens.
Instead, take up Jesus’ yoke and follow Him and learn from Him. If we try to imitate his example, we will experience the lightness of his burden. And the more our hearts are conformed to His, the lighter this burden will become, until it won’t seem like a burden at all. The choice is ours: whose yoke do you want to carry: the world’s, or Christ’s?