I pulled up my chair at a meeting today next to a city leader the other day. In my defense, our time was short and the setting was less than ideal with others quickly arriving. Even so, unexpectedly he leaned in close and said to me, “What do you do when you just get so tired?” And I rather lamely responded, “Well, I’m going on vacation in a few days…” And then our attention was pulled to the business before us with no chance to go deeper.
His question has lingered in my mind, though. Because of course time away is part of a true answer to what he asked. It is important to heed the need to rest when it is so very needed and no doubt important to do so before one finds oneself asking the question. But his wondering seemed aimed at something deeper than that and no doubt, not many of us could answer succinctly under the circumstances. At the same time, I recognized that he was calling up something in me — my own inadequacy at answering that question, responding to that need in myself. So how could I even begin to answer his question well? Even if there had been more time and space to do so.
Now it is so that I was then coming off a stretch of three funerals in three consecutive days. I have been doing this a long time by now and I have had multiple funeral weeks before, but I cannot recall a time when it was quite like this. Thankfully, only one of the deaths was unexpected. At the same time, many of you will know how it is, how as the officiant we often carry a lot in terms of executing details, being open to last minute needs of family members, not to mention picking up on and often carrying with us some of the emotional dynamics which are inevitably part of such days. And that doesn’t count the work of trying to craft a message (or three) which speak to different circumstances, if not terribly different needs.
The work is not new to me and so not especially difficult any more, but once I got through the last one, I practically had ringing in my ears the gift of Jesus’ offering now, ‘Come to me… all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens…’ It was all I could do to do the basics the next few days and try to regroup my energy around the edges.
I am told, however, that it is more than my circumstances which sometimes make me tired. That there is something in me that as of yet is unable to release the burdens which tend to pile on some days more than others. And I know that it is true that too often I hold tight to the heaviness of the burdens, believing (illogically, I know), that my tight grip, my unwillingness to put it down, will somehow make a difference. Or maybe it goes deeper than that. Maybe after a lifetime of it, it has become part of my understanding of myself — as one who does hard things.
Indeed, I found myself in urgent care a couple of Sunday afternoons ago. I had stubbed my toe on a door jamb on a Sunday morning. I will not soon forget looking down to see that the little toe on my left foot was pointed in the wrong direction. It could have only been adrenaline (and not allowing myself much time to think) that had me leaning over and popping it back into place. I did not then know that it was broken, else I am not sure how I would have gotten through the next few hours of preaching and leading worship. But as I sat with my foot resting on ice later that day it occurred to me that maybe I ought to have it looked at. And so I made an appointment and I went.
On first glance, the doctor thought that it was just a ligament for I did not make a big deal of having popped it back into place. He ordered x-rays anyway. And he came back ten minutes later and said, ‘You are tougher than I thought.’ It was broken and I had managed to reset it in one quick motion before church on a Sunday morning.
And I have to tell you, I have rather reveled in repeating the doctor’s words, “You are tougher than I thought.” Because I know that I can do hard things. I’m also told, however, that too much I am inclined to try to do those hard things alone. Or to think that I am doing those hard things alone, even if I am not. Either way, too much I am inclined to not heed Jesus’ words today, “Come to me, all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest…”
I spoke with a friend this morning and told him I was working on this passage now. He reminded me that it is one of his favorite passages. I asked him why. And he spoke of the yoke as something that is always shared. And it is always easier to bear the load when we are not bearing it alone. When we remember that Jesus is pulling right alongside us.
And so yes, it all comes down to this doesn’t it? Jesus, the one who is gentle and humble in heart, bears the load alongside us. And if we can bring ourselves simply to ‘look’ to our right or to our left, we can glimpse him there and ‘rest’ in that. But it is more than that, I think. For when I look to Jesus, I am reminded not only of the gift of him being alongside, but that as we read the whole Gospel witness, he also shows us how the hard things are done in the first place:
- With a clear sense of who he first is as God’s Beloved;
- Beyond that, with a clear sense of who he is and who he is called to be as one who is gentle and humble in heart and whose heart is open to the needs of the world;
- And as one who knows himself to be a part of something so much bigger — upheld by the certainty of God’s love which has been making God’s self known in new ways through all of time;
- Indeed, as one who though unique, was also not bearing the burden alone.
I know there is powerful, much needed learning for me in the invitation Jesus offers now. And likely it is something I will need to keep on learning for the rest of my life, for the world has shaped me in ways that are not necessarily inclined to hear and respond well to the gift which is being handed to us now. Perhaps this is also so for you…
And I do know this. I will be reaching out to that city leader I sat with at lunch the other day. Perhaps in continuing the conversation we can both better hear something of Jesus’ invitation. Indeed, I expect it is likely that we can do better together what I cannot possibly do all on my own.
- How do you hear Jesus’ invitation now to rest? How do you imagine the people you bring Good News to and/or worship alongside hear it?
- Do you hear it differently than you used to?
- Has the way you have responded changed with time and experience? If so, how has this been so?
- Finally, who might you be in conversation with about the rest Jesus offers and intends for us? How might that be the beginning of you hearing the invitation better for yourself?