Rest for the Weary

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Life is not always like driving on a highway in Nebraska: predictable, smooth, steady, peaceful, and refreshing, allowing me to cruise while taking in some lovely landscapes. Life is more like my regular drive from the suburbs to the city to see my kids: unpredictable, busy, irregular, congested, and draining. Consequently, I need consistent times of rest during which both my body and my soul are restored to full strength.

Over the years, I have been pretty good at establishing regular times of rest for my body. I was raised in a Christian church that viewed the Lord’s Day as the Sabbath Day—a day of rest for the body from all that consumed us Monday through Saturday. My parents didn’t do anything on Sunday that they could have done on Saturday—no cutting the grass or washing the car, no going out to eat, no jobs that required them to work on Sunday.  In that spirit, my siblings and I were not allowed to shop on Sunday, deliver newspapers, go swimming, or play sports. Sunday was a day to rest the body from all such activities.

Now, as a self-employed adult, I try to schedule a weekly 24-hour break from labor. While that break is seldom a Sunday (a work-day for a pastor), I’ve discovered this practice recharges me cognitively, emotionally, and spiritually. Conversely, when I neglect this practice, I don’t function well. I make poor decisions. I mistreat those I love. I binge on junk food. The list goes on.

I have also discovered that while my Sabbath days require rest from labor, they also provide an opportunity for activities which restore me as a person. This means, for me, that walking is good, as is gardening, or playing the piano, fishing, going to a ball game, or simply hanging out with family and friends.

I was recently reminded of another type of rest, one that complements rest for my body, and that is rest for my soul. The reminder came in the form of a sermon delivered by a former student who preached on Matthew 11:28-30:

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. (NIV).

I’ve been reflecting on that message for some time. As one who has never plowed a field with yoked oxen, I had assumed that the yoke was a heavy burden—similar to a ball and chain strapped to my ankle. I assumed that Jesus was inviting me to exchange my personal burdens for the burden of following him.

Instead I discovered that the yoke is a device to keep oxen walking straight while plowing the field.  What a different perception to think of the yoke of Jesus guiding me on a straight path through a life filled with challenges and difficulties. Instead of a burden, it’s a guide. The yoke-of-faith is a form of grace, an invitation to come to Jesus and learn from him.

All that sounded like nothing more than theory until a few days ago. Once again, my soul was restless. Once again, I had allowed the behavior of a couple people to dominate my days and keep me up at night. This was an all too familiar experience as a people-pleasing pastor with thick shoulders and thin skin. You would think that, after forty years, I’d be better at handling subversive behavior by a couple people in the congregation. But I didn’t. I chose to live as one “heavy laden.” Carrying that burden day and night, all by myself. Until I remembered the word I’d received from my student.

I went for a prayer walk. I came to Jesus. I heard his voice, not audibly but nonetheless clearly: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” At that moment, I knew Jesus was encouraging me to offer the same prayer for the two malcontents. And when I offered that prayer, I discovered rest for my soul.

Granted, Jesus could have offered me a different word. He could have brought me to the temple where he overturned tables and whipped up a frenzy. He could have brought me to the sanctuary and told me to leave and not return until I get right with the duo. But, on this occasion, he invited me to do nothing but pray.

I’m thankful for days on the Nebraska highway, but I’ve lived long enough to know that turbulent days lie ahead, days that require both rest for my body and rest for my soul. I just hope I’m aware enough to embrace both of those gifts before I hit the proverbial wall—and say, do, or think things I regret. And I pray that if I’m not, the Holy Spirit will catch my attention, just as he did through the sermon of a former student.

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.

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