Many of you may have heard (or perhaps you saw in the last newsletter) that I have some vacation scheduled for later this month. After 10 years of marriage, Chris and I are taking a cruise. We’re heading to Alaska for a glorious 7 day cruise. And as people have found out about our cruise, of course they’re curious what we’re most excited about; the excursions, the food, the scenery. People seem a bit disappointed when I tell them “what we’re most excited about is sleep. Eight hours (or more) of uninterrupted sleep. I. Can’t. Wait!! I don’t know whether that is a common feeling for new(er) parents, or people of our age, or if it points to the stress in our lives that we’re both so excited about sleep. So, when Jesus tells us today to come to him, all of us that are weary and carrying heavy burdens and that he will give us rest, that sounds awesome to me. I would like this passage even more if it said “come to me, all of you that are weary and I will give you a hammock and a massage.” That sounds like perfection to me.
And really, we should be resting in Jesus at all times, right? Not just when things are tough. At all times and in all places we should praise and rely on God, which sounds easy in theory. When I visit people in their homes or at hospitals or even when I just visit with people who are going through a difficult time we sometimes talk about how people without faith do “it.” How do people without faith navigate the waters of losing someone they love? How do people without faith go through chemotherapy and remain hopeful? How do people who are going through divorce manage without faith? And it’s easy for us to almost take pity on those people who don’t know God or don’t know the healing power of Christ because we’re here–in church, waiting to be literally fed. But, we too, the people of God, go through some difficult times that may even seem impossible.
Let’s go ahead and take a little survey–how many of you have NEVER had to go through a difficult time? Anyone? That’s what I thought. We have all had our shares of difficulty. Some of you may feel like you have had more than your fair share of difficulties. No one ever said life was easy. Sometimes it may feel like we’re not carrying heavy burdens but that we’re carrying immense burdens. These are the kinds of burdens that make you want to pull the covers up over your head and stay there until the storm passes. I dread to say it, but I think we have all experienced these kinds of burdens or at least know someone who has. And yes, sometimes in those places of great darkness, when hope seems impossible, feeling/seeing/knowing God can get complicated. I mean, you know God is with you, but at the same time, God has never felt so far away. I call these “wilderness periods.”
A wilderness period and what it feels like changes from person to person. My wilderness times will not be the same as yours. Before becoming your pastor, I went through a bit of a wilderness period. I wondered if God really did have a call for me. I wondered if there really was a church that wanted me as their pastor. More than once, I thought God really had forgotten about me. I was angry with God. I went through wilderness times while trying to have a baby and being so unsucessful time after time. I continue to struggle with wilderness periods, at times, with my own battles with anxiety and depression. And why do I mention these things, friends? I want to talk about these battles,even if they are my own private battles for a few reasons: 1) I am not ashamed of any of this. I am beautifully and wonderfully made in God’s image and God didn’t screw up while making me. 2) I want people to know, all of you included, that you’re never alone. Even if you feel like no one has gone through what you’ve been through, perhaps you might gain a little bit of hope in knowing we all have had our fair share of battles.
But, what the Gospel says next seems almost like a cruel joke. “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest in your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” So wait…Jesus, I’m having a bit of difficulty handling my own crap and now you want me to yoke myself to you even though you’re telling me that it’s easy and light? No thanks. I feel like this text is similar to agreeing to help a friend move a television and then you end up helping them move around the entire living room. We may walk away thinking “that is not at all what I thought it was going to be.” And a life in Christ is the same way–it’s nothing like we think it’s going to be.
It’s not very often that we are physically reminded that we are yoked to Jesus. I heard this same text at ordination and I take it very seriously. When my stoll was placed around me, it was to be a reminded that Jesus is accompanying me through this journey to serve God and God’s people. It is a reminder to me, all the time (whether I am wearing my stoll or not) that your worries are my worries, your grief is my grief, your joy is my joy, and your love is my love. I am yoked to Jesus, you are yoked to Jesus, we are yoked together. Jesus knows your every pain and joy because he is present in your lives at every waking moment. And is it okay to doubt that presence? You bet. Doubting God’s presence in your life does not make you a bad Christian–it makes you human.
But what do we do in those times when even though we know we are yoked to Christ that it still is hard to believe that he is there? I think we admit it in prayer; “look God, I’m having trouble hearing or seeing you, or believing that you know I’m going through this crappy situation. I know you’re there, but if you could just make yourself known a little bit more, I’d appreciate it.” How many times have I said that God is big enough to handle your anger? God will not ever EVER abandon you. I know it’s hard to imagine, but we can never do anything to make God wash God’s hands of us. God is never going to label any of us a “lost cause” no matter how we label one another.
And if you’re having trouble still with feeling like Christ is with you, there is one easy way to be reminded: look at the first words of verses 28 and 29. Jesus invites us, “come. Take.” These are the words we hear at the table. Come, take and eat, take and drink. Be reminded that you are not alone. Jesus, who helps you carry your burdens, invites you to rest. Think about taking him up on that offer.