I remember a time when religion felt heavy.
It wasn’t just religion; it was life that was heavy.
I remember the day my card was declined in the grocery checkout, and how we desperately needed the food in those bags in the cupboard at home. I remember [my husband] Greg not having a job. I remember feeling like God had forgotten about the job, and the empty cupboards, and the credit card that was declined.
That Sunday, I walked in to teach my Primary class and I was exhausted from life, and from worry, and from trying to make ends meet. What I didn’t have was patience for other people’s children, for lessons that wouldn’t fill me, for hours at church that wouldn’t bring answers.
Where was God?
I still remember that Sunday morning. The cold folding chair. The kids crawling all over each other. The tears welling up in my eyes because it just wasn’t what I needed. It wasn’t that the sanctuary didn’t offer what I needed. It was that life was too heavy for me to care. It was an emptiness that couldn’t be filled. A heaviness that couldn’t be carried. I sat through all the hours of church that day and went home cold.
I wonder if that has ever been you?
It’s hard to feel welcome in someone’s house when you feel like you’ve been forgotten.
You probably wonder why I went back to church the next Sunday.
It is because of the yoke.
Some people view the yoke as a burden, heavy, confining, constricting, controlling. Jesus says it makes things light, that it brings rest. Which one is right?
Almost two decades ago there was another man who must have felt the same heaviness that I did, because he read the same verses that I have read a hundred times, Matthew 11:28–30, and then he rewrote those New Testament verses in his own words—and sometimes reading the same phrase a different way from a different perspective can be life-altering.
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me.”1 It is the unforced rhythms of grace that capture my heart when I read this passage. I want to consider each word. Unforced. Rhythms. Grace.
How to recover a life.
I begin by thinking about the word unforced, because what I felt on that cold folding chair was forced, and I immediately wondered what was wrong with that place, with that situation, with those people. It didn’t take long before I realized it wasn’t religion that had changed; it was me. The yoke wasn’t supposed to be ill-fitting or heavy. I could actually look back and remember seasons when attending church had filled me, enriched me, and lifted me. It just wasn’t happening now.
No one ever said that religion was comfortable, and growing muscle requires repetition that causes pain, and strength comes from pushing ourselves outside of comfort zones, and grace is what happens when Christ enters into the empty places and into the heavy places. Grace is what happens when Christ enters in. Just because we don’t see Him doesn’t mean He isn’t there. It just means we don’t recognize Him in this situation. This is important. Don’t be afraid to look for Him in heavy situations.
One of His best jobs is lifting.
Heavy doesn’t have to mean forced. Instead, it might remind us of the need for the yoke. The sharing of the burden. Someone to help us lift the hard things. Someone to help lift us. The process of ascension requires lifting, and there is One who is willing to help.
He invites us into a rhythm of enabling grace through His yoke.
The rhythm of grace.
In those moments when we feel tired of the obligation, of the requirement, of the routine, perhaps we might ask ourselves, is there an importance to rhythm? In doing things again, and again, and one more time? Can the rhythm of ritual worship, the repetition of it, heal us, strengthen us, lift us? Instead of being exhausting, could the rhythms actually be exhilarating? Could rhythms of unforced grace restore life?
1. Eugene H. Peterson, translator, Matthew 11:28–30 in The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2005); emphasis added; see also https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew%2011%3A28-30&version=MSG.