The past year has been one of recognizing my own weakness. And there is nothing like recognizing your own weakness to cause you to reevaluate your perspective on life. I don’t like to be weak; I like to be strong. I want to take care of everything and everyone else around me, making life run smoothly. So I toil beneath the crushing burden of my own expectations of perfection, determined to be strong.
Yesterday, as I balanced an unwieldly jumble of boxes while attempting to open a door, a friend ran up to help me. “I’ve got you, Sabra,” he said. Assuming he was coming to hold the door, I readjusted the boxes in my arms, thanking him earnestly. But when he reached to take the boxes from me, I was surprised. He smiled and said again, “No, I’ve got you, Sabra.” Such a brief encounter, such a simple kindness, yet I was undone. Here I was, waiting for someone to hold the door when someone was willing and able to take my boxes. As I considered this, I wondered how often I misunderstand Jesus like that, hoping He’ll hold the door when He really wants to carry my burden. He’s standing here telling me, “I’ve got you, Sabra,” but I’m so busy being strong that my greatest expectation is for Him to hold the door for me.
I always liked the moment in Pilgrim’s Progress when Pilgrim laid his heavy burden at the foot of the Cross and journeyed onward, lightened and free. Yet like all analogies, it has its shortfalls. The Cross is not a moment we come to then move beyond; it is a grace we live out a daily basis. Salvation is not a point in time; it is an eternal, ever-present reality. It is indeed that first Jesus-encounter before the Cross that gives us full access to grace and relentless forgiveness. However, learning to walk in that freedom takes both time and practice as the Holy Spirit works in our lives, renewing our minds and transforming our habits. We must learn to live beneath a new yoke – not the self-inflicted burden of rules and failures and expectations, but the light load that Jesus offers.
“Come to me, all of you who are tired from carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke and put it on you, and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in spirit; and you will find rest. For the yoke I will give you is easy, and the load I will put on you is light.”
– Matthew 11:28-30 GNT
But why is the burden or “load” that Jesus gives us so light? Why is His yoke so easy? It is because He takes our burdens upon His shoulders. That is what the Cross is: “Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows….He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:4, 5). In light of the fact that pride causes problems but humility finds grace from God, we are urged, “Therefore, humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your cares upon Him, for he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:5-7). God has not called us to lonely toil beneath heavy burdens of expectations and rules; rather, He has called us to sit quietly at His feet, finding our value in the restful place of His presence. (Check out the Luke 10 account of Mary and Martha.) He can faithfully promise rest because His shoulders carry the burden.
I had a cold this week, and on Thursday morning my mom essentially forbade me from going to class and chapel. She told me that I needed to rest in order to regain my health. “Sometimes it is just reality that you take a sick day,” she said. Just reality. I didn’t want that to be reality – I wanted to be strong. It was difficult for me – I had to delegate my responsibilities and let other things go. Last fall, considering my other commitments, I took on an obscene number of class credit hours. When people mention that they barely saw me in the previous fall semester, I say that I barely saw myself. My continued 4.0 GPA and high praises from work may not have made it seem as though I was struggling, but the reality of that situation is that I can scarcely recall anything from that semester. Apparently my stress level was so high that my brain decided to blur my memories – and that makes me sad, because I missed out on the pleasures in my quest to be strong. That same semester, I did not want to break down when my dog was put to sleep. I felt embarrassment as I cried through a whole biology class. (Of course, I would never have thought to skip the class that began minutes after I received the news about my pet.) And even as I sought comfort from my closest friends, I wished my grief weren’t so messy. I often find myself caught between the reality of my need and the depths of my pride.
So you see, I write this not as one who “has it all together” (an unrealistic notion as ever was) but as one who is still learning to relinquish her boxes and let her Savior shoulder her weakness. I am learning that my strength is not enough. Though I knew it, it is another thing entirely to understand it. Alone, I attempt to navigate an endless sea of expectations that I have for myself. Yet like a shipwrecked sailor my strength soon wanes and I begin to sink. I become so preoccupied with proving my strength, with doing everything perfectly, that I forget His yoke is easy and His load is light for me.
I am not strong enough. And that it is a healthy knowledge, because I have nothing to prove. I want to be strong in His strength, and righteous in His righteousness alone. I want to be a refuge and a resting place for others because I am at rest in His arms, safe in the shadow of His wings. He has taken all my burdens upon His shoulders and simply waits for me to step into place and walk alongside Him. In His place of rest there is nothing to prove. Our gentle Savior only longs for us to enjoy the spacious place of His gracious presence as He teaches us to operate in the freedom of His light load.
I’d like to share with you a song that I listened to as I wrote this. Take a few minutes to listen to it; and as you do so, consider not only who Jesus is but also who you do not need to be because of who He is. May we learn to find our place of rest at the side of Him who carries our every burden upon His mighty and unfailing shoulders. We have nothing to prove, nothing to lose, and everything to gain.