Friday, December 16, 2011

The Yoke and the Burden

“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’ve been thinking about the concept of a yoke. In a literal sense, “the word ‘Yoke’ means a bar of wood, so constructed as to unite two animals (usually oxen), enabling them to work in the fields, drawing loads, pulling instruments used for farming” (  

Figuratively, it can mean slavery (1 Tim 6:1), Servanthood (Lev 26:13 and Jer 27:8-12), Submission, Forced Subjection, Burden, Load, Oppression (Isaiah 9:4), and Bondage to Sin (Lam 1:14).

So Jesus is offering his “yoke” to us in order to learn from him. Is he offering the burden he carries? The oppression and load that our sins put upon him created? That’s what I thought at first. But Jesus wouldn’t give us a burden to carry, much less the sins he’s had to take upon himself in order to save and redeem us. He took that on for us so we would be set free. So it’s not the burden of sin that is his “yoke.” Then what is it?

I think the key to finding out what the yoke is, is in the phrase, “for I am gentle and humble in heart.”  Jesus offers us something and that is himself: gentle and humble in heart. He asks us to take upon those traits. Perhaps his offering is this (paraphrased by me): if you become gentle and humble in heart, you, too, will find peace and rest.

Another verse that baffles me is, “For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Do you believe what Jesus offers is easy? In some ways, I have found it to be the easiest thing in the world – to follow him, to love each other, to be honorable and genuine, to serve others as Jesus did. I try to do that in my job every day and then come home and do my best to serve my husband and family with love and appreciation and acts of service (sometimes I can improve upon that last one).

Yet in other ways I find this yoke that Jesus says is easy to be extremely hard. It has been hard to let go of my New Agey ways. To get rid of the things that weren’t “of God” and those things which drew me away from his side and path. It has also been hard to love those who “persecute me.” In other words, to love my enemy, to love those who don’t necessarily like me or are good to me…to extend grace, peace and love to them. Boy, has that been a struggle!

And understanding that the Christian walk does not mean a struggle-free walk – that has quite possibly been the most difficult realization. In fact, in some areas, I have found that being a Christian makes situations more complicated and challenging.

But I think back to Jesus saying, with arms outstretched, “for my yoke is easy and my burden is light” and I want to run into those arms and embrace him, surely do I want to take up his yoke. I want to follow him. But then there’s that word: burden. Instinctively I cringe at that word.

We carry a lot of burdens around with us, don’t we? I know, for me, I feel a great weight on my shoulders from my responsibilities of being a good stepmother, a good wife, a good worker, a good daughter, a good friend, and above all that, a good Christ-follower. When days go nicely, those things don’t feel like a burden at all, but one bad phone call or one snarky comment can make all those things tumble down upon me like a rockslide. You bet I feel burdened.

And yet… I feel a whisper…that is the burden I pick up for myself. Jesus does not place those burdens on my shoulders. He asks me to follow him. The expectations I have for myself, the things I try to do by my own strength – that is not exactly listening to Jesus’ commands, is it.  He wishes for me (us) to place my trust and faith in him, to surrender the power I think I have over to him and to let go of control. That doesn’t mean I become a powerless puppets, on the contrary. I have found that when I release my self-made burdens to God, I feel unforgettably lighter and better.

So is his yoke easy and his burden light? I’ve decided that my heavy burden is self and circumstance-made, not placed upon me by the Lord. He asks for me to let go of all that “stuff.”

Faith is trust and belief in that which we cannot see, right?

An easy yoke and a light burden is a difficult yoke and a heavy burden lifted up to God.

Won’t you follow it, too?

It is especially important during this holiday season as we get bogged down with shopping for presents and trying to make every family member from all sides happy. As we try to give the perfect Christmas to our kids and of course we must give a little bit away for the needy, right? Oh, I’m not saying those things aren’t important, but let’s have perspective. Our to-do lists create mountains of paper on our kitchen counter until Christmas Eve, the night of the birth of the babe who came to save us all, where we suddenly want to scream at all the things we have left to do and all the things we don’t think we’ve done enough of. Suddenly we are failures and we deem this holiday a failure.

Please don’t let that be your Christmas. Follow the easy yoke and the light burden that Jesus offers. Release all those stresses to him and open the eyes of your heart – look around you at the smiling children who are just thrilled to receive a tight embrace and a loving word. Look at the beautiful light displays around your neighborhood and marvel at how it illuminates the block. Thank God that we (in southern Wisconsin) haven’t had a huge snowfall yet.

Yes, count your blessings! Go out and get Ann Voskamp’s, “One Thousand Gifts” and start your New Year being more aware of the splendor of God and take up that dare to be more fully awake and alive.

His yoke is easy and his burden is light – if you let it be. If you let go of the trappings of the World and our culture, the trappings of what our society has made Christmas into: focused on gifts, money, the most of this, the most of that.

Mercy to you this Christmas. Peace to you this Christmas.

I invite you to take a breath. Did you do that? Okay, now stand up straight and notice your shoulders. Are they tight and heavy? Go to a window and look upward. Imagine yourself releasing all the world and you-placed burdens until you can envision them as balloons floating up to the sky. Jesus can take them. He can handle it. He wants  to handle it.

A prayer from me:

Dear Father in Heaven,
I release all the rushing around I do this season, all the frantic buying of gifts when I know we don’t have enough money nor do our kids need that many gifts. Lord, I thank you for blessing my family with good health, financial provision, enough food and shelter and love. Please bless our family with your presence and infuse our home with love. Help these kids know they are safe and loved eternally – by you, Jesus, and by us as their parents. Lord, take away the “perfect Christmas” I carry around in my head. There is no perfection that we humans can create and counting on that is asking to be let down. I rely on you, Lord, to provide for us this Christmas and forever. I want to take upon your yoke and learn from you. Oh, I so want to learn from you! I know I need rest in my heart, Lord, and I ask that for everyone in this world as they hustle and bustle around this season. I ask you to bless them with deep breaths and the ability to see the beauty and blessings around them that aren’t bought or man-made. Dear Lord, help us to focus on the “reason for the season” – your son being born – what a delight! What a thing to behold! Let us celebrate that, Lord! Let us celebrate you by shaking our self-made burdens off of us like dander, like a dog shaking the wet out of his fur. Bless all who cry out to you, O Lord, and lift up their burdens and finally, Lord, give them rest.
In your precious name,

Enjoy this powerful song, "Rest," by Downhere at the following site:

an interesting blog I came across while searching for a "yoke" image:
She even references my favorite author, Ann Voskamp!

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