Author’s note: the following experience took place several years ago as I was going through The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. As I wrestled in the First Week with my theology around sin, God used a unique image to transform my thinking.
Come to Me,
all you who labor and are heavy-laden and overburdened,
and I will cause you to rest.
[I will ease and relieve and refresh your souls.]
Take My yoke upon you and learn of Me,
for I am gentle (meek) and humble (lowly) in heart,
and you will find rest
(relief and ease and refreshment and recreation and blessed quiet)
for your souls.
For My yoke is wholesome
(useful, good—not harsh, hard, sharp, or pressing,
but comfortable, gracious, and pleasant),
and My burden is light and easy to be borne.
Matthew 11:28-30 (AMP)
I sit with the passage. I know it well. How many times has God brought me back to these verses?
In my imagination, I see myself with Jesus as He says the words:
“Come to Me…. Take My yoke upon you and learn of Me.”
A yoke? It sounds heavy and uncomfortable, hard and restrictive. Not wholesome, easy or light, as the passage indicates.
I hear Jesus say,
“Lisa, let me show you how this works. I know you have some trepidation about a yoke.”
Patiently and gently, He walks me through it, explaining the reasoning behind a yoke. When He puts the yoke on He is carrying the bulk of the weight. My side of the yoke barely touches my shoulders. It is not cutting into my neck and shoulder like I thought it would. He shares that when I am yoked with Him I can truly rest because He is the One guiding and leading.
He says to me,
“I am all powerful. I am all sufficient. It is nothing for Me to carry the bulk of your burdens.”
I listen, thankful for His willingness to teach me. But, as soon as He is done, I see another image. A strange one that I don’t fully understand.
I am in a dry, barren place. It is hot and dusty and void of vegetation or water. I have a harness on my back, like in those Strong Man competitions. It has chains attached to a semi truck. I am straining, sweating, and struggling with all my might to pull the truck. I’m trying to prove my superior strength to those around me. My self sufficiency says, “Look at me!” But, I barely budge. People are cheering me on, “You can do it! Keep going!” I keep pulling, exhausted and spent. I am not making any progress, but I keep on trying.
The next day, I share the image with my spiritual director. He understands it. He asks me to go back in my imagination to the barren place and see where Jesus is. As I close my eyes, revisiting it, I see Jesus sitting on a stone bench under several lush green trees, about 20 yards away. He is watching me, lovingly and patiently. He makes no move towards me, just sits and waits.
Over the next several weeks my director and I return to the image again and again. In my mind it is a picture of my strong sense of self sufficiency, but it goes much deeper than that.
The truck is my humanity, the weight of sin I have been trying to shoulder my entire life. All my self effort, fears, guilt and shame, pride, unforgiveness, judgment, and so on.
I want to be free, to get out from the burden and weight of the semi truck I am still straining to pull. Gradually, I begin to understand that no matter what I do, I am unable to unbuckle the harness on my own.
Jesus is patient, waiting for me to come to the end of myself, to finally acknowledge that I am incapable of getting free by myself.
Finally, I understand. There is no escaping the weight of sin without the cross. I can strive to be good. I can work hard to perform well and do all the “right things.” I can read the Bible, worship, go to church every Sunday, pray—all the things good Christians do, but I cannot set myself free.
It comes down to surrender. To reaching the end of my own efforts, to acknowledging my brokenness, my weakness and human inadequacy, my sin.
I cry out, “Help me, Jesus! I can’t do this by myself!”
Graciously, with care and compassion, He stands up and walks toward me. When He reaches me, He easily unbuckles the straps of the harness. The chains fall to the ground. The burden is lifted.
I am free.
I realize that I must come to this place often.
Every time I rely on my own strength to do what only Jesus can do, I cry out for His help.
Every time I take back the weight of shame and guilt, I cry out for His help.
Every time I fall into my old sinful ways, I cry out for His help.
And every time I cry out for His help, He graciously comes to my rescue and delivers me from the horrendous burden.