Come to me all you who are weary and 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 11:28-30
I had to make a difficult decision. It meant that I would be disappointing some people, even myself a little. It meant that those who do not like me would have a reason to ridicule, to feel justified in their lack of respect for me. It meant that I might be making a mistake, that a year from now I would look back and lament about it.
It’s a scenario I go through mentally and spiritually every time I have to make a big decision. Really. Every time. But this time it seemed different somehow. I was used to this angst, but this time the weight seemed ill-fitting. This time it chafed and irritated. This time it didn’t belong.
As the weight of the decision grew more uncomfortable, my thoughts wandered to yokes. You know, that heavy piece of lumber an ox has shackled to his back. And, of course, I was thinking about the yoke that Jesus wants us to take on, rather than our own heavy ones.
In Old Testament days, the commandments of God were often referred to as a yoke to remind the people of their obligation to God. According to Adam Clarke, there was the yoke of the kingdom, the yoke of the law, the yoke of the command, the yoke of repentance, the yoke of faith, and the general yoke of God.
That’s a lot of yokes!
Then Jesus advised his followers that the Pharisees took that burden even further.
[They] tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but [they] are not willing to lift a finger to move them. ~Matthew 23:4
That’s true even today. There still exists a measure of legalism in some churches that virtually negates the intention of Jesus and the freedom he offers (a topic for another post…someday).
But, besides having a heavy yoke put on us by someone else, I realized that the heaviest yoke I had on me was the one I put on myself. And this was certainly not the first time.
It appears that many of us – me included – are professional yoke-hangers! We yoke ourselves with story lines that smack of self-condemnation. We hang onto stuff that belongs to someone else as we worry and fret about their lives, their decisions, their crap. We selfishly hold onto our ‘own way’ as reason for condemnation, or judgmental attitudes.
Then there is my personally-inflicted, gold-plated, favorite: the yoke of what others might think. The fear of disapproval, of rejection, of not belonging, of not being loved. We yoke ourselves to behaviors that we know will get approval, even if they fly in the face of our reason, our personality, our loves. It has often been my heaviest weight.
Jesus gave us a choice of a different kind of yoke. He taught that his yoke was lighter. He didn’t say that we should have no yoke. He taught that his was lighter and easier. (And I wonder if we can even exist as a human without some kind of yoke on us – apathy is as much a yoke as faith, right?)
Matthew Henry described Jesus’ yoke so eloquently…
His is a yoke that is lined with love. Such is the nature of all Christ’s commands, so reasonable in themselves, so profitable to us, and all summed up in one word, and that a sweet word, love. We may truly say, it is a yoke of pleasantness.
In the midst of my decision-making angst, I woke up in the middle of the night heavy with the realization that this decision was crippling me.
I was weary and I was surely burdened. Jesus invited us to ‘come to him’ when we were like that. So I did.
That night I prayed ‘please God take my angst about this decision and don’t let me take it back.’ I wasn’t trying to be eloquent or even exact. I wasn’t asking for relief from a church or a doctrine or a preacher. I was asking for relief from the only one who could give it.
Jesus knew what my heart was really crying for, no matter how I said it. He knew the only way I could get it was to choose to toss the heavy and burdensome yoke off of myself. He knew that I needed to trust that he would take care of all the consequences – even if they were the ones I had been so frightfully, so heavily imagining.
I slept well the rest of the night. The next morning I made the decision public and final. There was no turning back. It would be what it would be.
The freedom I felt wasn’t because the weight of the decision had been removed, although it had. I felt free because I took on his yoke. I was free because I took on the yoke of trusting Jesus with all of it.
I took my angst to him, and he answered me with freedom.
[my personal paraphrase of Psalm 118.5]
There is no freedom of thought or mind or spirit that is quite like Jesus’ kind of freedom.
…you will find rest for your souls.
Dear Lord – help me to remember all that you have taught this Jesus-yoke-carrier. Remind me of it each and every time I reach for a yoke that is not yours – no matter how tempting and light it looks. ~Amen