Monday, January 30, 2017

Are you tired yet?





At that time Jesus said, ‘I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.
 ‘Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, 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 11:25-30

Every day here in Australia I wake up to a Facebook feed flooded with anger and fear and frustration and desperation. Sign this petition, call your congressperson, here’s fifteen vital things you should be paying attention to for the next four years!  And underneath of all of all these cries of Urgency! Vigilance! I hear deep sorrow, fear, and an unyielding fatigue. We thought when the contentious election season ended we could finally stop being on constant alert. But it turns out that was just the beginning, and there is no end in sight.  Americans are divided in many ways, but one thing we all have in common, is that we are weary.

Into this weariness come Jesus’ words, Come to me, Jesus says, and I will give you rest.

OK, Jesus, that sounds nice, but get real. It will have to wait. You must not be paying attention. This is clearly not the time to rest. If there were ever a time in our lives for vigilance, attention and non-stop effort, surely this is it.  How could we really contribute if we stopped and rested? What would it say about us if we turned away, if we weren't watching every moment, absorbing and feeling every blow? How would we measure our commitment if we didn’t pay 24/7 attention to it all?

In regular life, we're already a mess around the idea of rest. Those we esteem most in western cultures are the tireless, the unstoppable, the fighters that just keep pushing themselves, those that get it done. How are you? We ask each other. “Busy!” we always answer, cheerfully, proudly, exhausted. We might as well answer, “Distracted! Pulled in many directions. Unable to focus on or enjoy any one thing. Weary.”

But amp up the ante, put the whole work-weary, pressure-weary, election-weary nation under this new regime that is systematically dismantling much of what had seemed definitive and unshakeable about our country, and we’re in uncharted waters.  “Weary” doesn’t begin to describe people’s emotional state, but we tell ourselves we’re not allowed to be weary. That would be like giving up.

Rest is a nice idea, a someday luxury for a less urgent time. We’ll save rest for the sick and utterly depleted, for those fighting illness or recovering from surgery. Maybe when you absolutely can’t keep going, and you’re forced to stop and catch your breath, you can briefly rest until you can amp back up again.  Rest takes us out of the fight, and that can make us feel like we're abandoning others.

This passage of scripture comes in the middle of a long rant of Jesus’ about how the people are missing the gift right in front of them.  And it begins with the part where Jesus pauses in talking to the people, and raises his face to the heavens in a mid- argument prayer.  Like an exasperated mom, he blocks out their whining for a minute, heaves a dramatic sigh and intones, Oh, Thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because, clearly, you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants…

Infants get it, and we don’t.
Here’s the thing: Infants don’t exist on their own. They come attached to a parent. Completely dependent. Known, loved and cared for, learning who they are and experiencing the world through that secure attachment. 
And beyond that, infants don’t do a darn thing, really. They don’t contribute anything to the household economy or pitch in a single helpful thing to the community around them.  They don’t seem to feel at all driven to accomplish anything at all. And they hardly ever compare themselves to each other, or to their developmental milestones, to gauge where they are lacking or take pride in how quickly they are advancing. 
Babies are completely unconcerned about persuading others to think like them, or judging those who don’t, and infants rarely obsess about the future.
And they are only children of their parents; their identity is from the ones who gave them life. It would never occur to a baby to imagine you feel anything for them other than unconditional delight and devotion.  

To be an infant is to be vulnerably and simply you.  You, belonging.  You, beloved.
At the very most core –babies are still completely connected to God, and they take for granted that we all belong to each other.
They rest in their reality; they trust:
My needs will be met.  
I can sleep when I am tired. 
I can eat when I am hungry.  
I can cry when I am sad.
I can close my eyes without fear.  
I am held by someone stronger than me.
I belong to these people. They belong to me.
The world is filled with beauty, wonder and love.

Jesus doesn’t say, Come to me you who are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you extra energy and the strength to power through.  I will give you an edge, a do-over or a bump up.   I will promote your agenda or satisfy your desires.  Jesus isn’t offering a strategy to win, or to overcome our humanity and need, to fix the world how we think it should be fixed. 

Jesus is inviting us to tell the truth with our lives, to live how we were made to live – attached to our source of life. To come back to the reality that babies still exist in, to return to the natural order of things.
Rest is part of the cycle of creation itself, hibernation, germination, night, day, winter, spring.  It is initiated, and in fact, commanded, by the creator of all, who rests. 

The Old Testament often refers to the promise of salvation as “coming into the rest of God.”  In other words, rest is what it feels like to be saved from whatever keeps us captive, released from whatever consumes us, freed from whatever enslaves us, restored from whatever disconnects us from God, and relieved of whatever keeps us divided from each other.  Salvation is coming into the rest of God.

But, especially in the midst of what feels like such a national crisis, how do we do it?  
How do we actually put down what is weighing on our minds and pressing on our souls?  How could we ever allow ourselves to?

He answers the how question too.
“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me,” Jesus says. A yoke is a wooden crosspiece that is fastened over the necks of two animals and attached to the plow or cart that they are to pull.
“Take my yoke upon you.” This is a straight up trade. Jesus says, I will release you from your work and give you a different job altogether.  I will unhook you from all that you are dragging around, and connect you back up to me, and you will carry what I carry into the world instead.

What are you weary of?
What heavy burdens are you carrying around? 
To what are you captive?  
What feels most pressing, most urgent, most demanding?
These are what Jesus will ask you to lay down. 
That feels terrifying.  Because the very things we are often most weary of, are the things we also believe define us, or the things we think can’t happen without us.  We tell ourselves they are our identity, our purpose, our reason for being.  And who would we be, without these things?  How can we be expected to lay those down?

The yoke we are given by the world, the one we instinctively pick up starts in the very earliest lie, which says we are in this alone and God can’t be trusted.  It goes on to convince us that the goal of life is security and self-sufficiency at all costs. Those around us are competition, threat and obstacle; there is not enough to go around, so guard yours well. It says that the powerful matter and the weak don’t, that having more makes you better, and that all human worth is earned. It’s all up to you, so never slow down, never give up, never let go, never lose your place.
That’s the yoke we are accustomed to being strapped into, the cart we are most often pulling behind us.  Regardless of how we each specifically fill it – this message is the gyst of it for us all.  And this way of life demands constant vigilance and self-protection.

We can easily see this mentality shaping the current regime, but when it comes to doing justice, fighting for rights, standing up for one another, this mentality also often shapes our actions.  Life is a battle. It’s all up to us. The “other side” is the enemy. Those who dehumanize others are less than human.  No rest for the weary – you must stay constantly engaged. You are not doing enough. You are doing it wrong.

Anger sets people on fire. Rage motivates, and fuels, and makes people show up and do good things.  But it only works if you continually stoke the fuel of despair and outrage, and even then it burns out quickly and leaves ashes and exhaustion in its wake. And then the people who care, and want to make a difference, feel guilty for not maintaining that level of urgency and involvement, for letting everyone (themselves, God, and especially the vulnerable) down. 
This is one way to carry the heavy yoke.

But there is another yoke. There is another way.
Jesus’ way, the Kingdom of God, says we are already connected to God, like infants to a mother. And life begins in abundance and gift.  Our God comes into this life with us in weakness and impossibility, and stands with the poor, the stranger, the abandoned and the overlooked. That’s where God already is; that is where you will always find Jesus.  
And you are loved already, just as you are, and you are not meant to be “perfect,” you are meant to be the only you God ever made, in all your glorious difference, alongside all these others who are different from you, but also who are in it together with you as, sister, brother, friend.  There is enough to go around, and life is for sharing.  And no matter what it looks like at any given moment, it’s all heading toward connection and wholeness, because God is the one who decides the end, and in Christ, it’s already been decided.  Living in freedom, connected to God and each other – this is Jesus’ “yoke.” Bearing this is what Jesus is inviting us to join him in. 

Our life could be dictated by the things we avoid or fear, by the expectations put on us by others, by our bosses or bank accounts, or by the desperation and urgency of the current national crisis.  This is an option, and it’s a compelling one at the moment.

Or we could turn to God, who is Lord of heaven and earth, and find ourselves along for the ride in Christ’s work of loving and healing a weary world in all sorts of unexpected, impossible and subversive ways.  
God’s way is not our way. All true transformation, healing and newness comes through weakness, futility and impossibility.  
Lest we forget: we don’t have a triumph and might faith, we have a death and resurrection faith.  
It’s our job to remind each other of that.

I love that in the Jewish understanding of Sabbath, the day begins at sundown. That means that rather than rest being a reward for a job well done, or a last ditch attempt to recover from hard labor or relentless fighting, rest is where it all starts.
Rest is where your being and your belonging begin. 
In rest, we trust:
my needs will be met.  
I can sleep when I am tired. 
I can eat when I am hungry.  
I can cry when I am sad.
I can close my eyes without fear.  
I am held by someone stronger than me.
I belong to these people. They belong to me.
The world is filled with beauty and wonder and love.

And when you wake, all your work and efforts and living flows from this rest, this place of groundedness, peace, salvation. 

When things feel most urgent, most pressing, most despairing, this is not the time to panic, talk faster, run harder, strive further. On the contrary, this is the time to stop. 
To return to the natural order of things, to come back to the reality that babies still exist in, completely connected to our source; belonging to God and belonging to each other. 
To let what we do and say next flow from salvation’s rest. 
From abundance. 
From trust that God is doing something, always, and that we have a place in that.
Our calling comes from who God made us to be, and God will give us a sustained and consistent way to join in, a way that wont deplete us and burn us out, but will fill us with purpose and joy, even in the midst of sorrow.  A way that will connect us more deeply with one another and make lasting change. 

Anger and disappointment come from a longing for what we are made for to be experienced – to live and feel the deeply held values that we know in our bones to be true - such as respect, mutuality, kindness, safety, well-being, contribution, belonging, to be heard and seen, etc.  When we stop and sit with this longing, even naming it in specifics, and let God meet us in our grief and our desire for wholeness, then, instead of lashing out in frantic activity, our actions will be guided, focused, joyful, even.  They will be grounded in connection and cooperation, instead of hovering in isolation and haste.  We will participate with hope instead of desperation, because we are not looking for might and triumph, we are not trying to win, or beat our enemies. Instead, we are watching for resurrection out of death, we are finding our humanity alongside each other, and we are joining in God’s ongoing salvation that began before us and will continue after us. 
This yoke is easy and this burden is light.

Jesus says Come to me.  And we are invited to answer,
Yes. OK. I will comeI will lay down my burdens and my pride; I will admit my weariness, and I will welcome your rest. I wont let rest become a last resort, a contingency plan, a life-saving measure. I will come now. I will begin here.
Yours is the way and work I choose.

What will be your ways to say Yes this week?  
A whole day with the phone off, reading and napping by the fire, or wandering unhurried through the woods? 
A three-minute pause each day in your car before heading into work?  
Something creative or crafty, something you enjoy that fills you?
When things are noisy, where is your silence?
Where is your music? Where is your joy?  
Who are the people you look at that remind you that you love, and are loved?  
Where do you go for support?  For reminding?  For relaxation? For respite? 
What will be your Yes this week?

Listen again. These words are for you:

“Are you tired? 
Worn out? 
Weighed down by heaviness? 
Come to me. 
Get away with me and you will recover your life. 
I will 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 and you will learn to live freely and lightly.”

 (Mt. 11:28-30 adapted from The Message)


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