Last year, sick and tired of being sick and tired, fed-up of full hands and an empty heart, I began to read books about rest.
This is what they said: We put too high a value on busy. They compared European required time off, to American. The advice was to get away. Work less. Say "No" more. Take naps. Take time off. Take a cold shower for 3 minutes every day.
So I took the showers, and I rested every Sunday, and I did get more productive. Of all things, my memory improved. But the the tiredness deep in my soul didn't go away. Emptying my schedule didn't fill me up at all. In fact, I felt more empty than ever.
I can tend to over schedule myself, but in general, I'm not a particularly busy person. My triumphant motto for life is: Do What You Ought To Do. It's just that -- sometimes "what you ought to do" is more than what you can do. Sometimes life just knocks the wind out of you. And in those moments you can't say "No" to needing sleep at night, or work less for the living you need more of, or take time off from your own children. Life itself is the hard, exhausting thing, and I didn't want to live less of it. I wanted to live it better.
"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).
This strange word "yoke" isn't talking about the golden part of an egg. It's an instrument of toil -- a large piece of wood that is fastened over the necks of two animals and attached to the plow or cart that they are to pull, allowing them together to pull a much greater weight than the combination of what they could pull on their own. Usually, an older, more experienced animal is yoked to younger animal so the the younger one can learn how to wear the yoke as they walk alongside each other.
So if soul-rest was what I really longed for, Jesus was the one I could learn it from. I settled in to read the gospels, Sunday-School images of Jesus walking through sunny fields, patting laughing little children on their golden-blonde heads running through my mind. Instead, I found myself a little jarred by all the throngs of people, the near-riots, the parties Jesus had to attend, contrasted against verses like Mark 6:31: " . . . there were so many people coming and going that Jesus and his apostles didn't even have time to eat.
Though Jesus did get away for time with just His disciples, and time with just His Father, most of His life was lived out with the people, in the middle of the rush and turmoil of it all. "Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head," He once told a would-be disciple (Matthew 8:20). The guy didn't hang around long.
That didn't sound very easy. Taking Jesus' yoke meant walking alongside Him in the work. He wasn't talking about getting away from it all, but about having soul-rest in the midst of it all.
Jesus' life was marked by an ease, a calmness, that was wholly unfamiliar to me. He is probably the only person, ever, to stop on the way to rescue a dying girl, to ask who had touched His cloak (Luke 8:45), or to hear someone he loved was at Death's door, and wait around for two days (John 11:6), or to sleep through a storm on the high seas (Mark 4:38).
"Peace . . . which surpasses understanding" is was Paul calls it (Philippians 4:7). He prays, that in Christ, this peace would guard us -- our hearts, and our minds . . . the places where stress and tiredness hit us hardest. It's not a sunshine-and-daisies kind of peace, it's a shield around us.
That is the kind of peace Jesus carries, and the kind of peace He gives to us, if we will let Him teach us.
God has a simple phrase He repeats to me when the storms of life rage high. The first time I heard it I was crumpled in a heap on the floor, saying to myself, "I can't, I can't, I can't." I hadn't slept in days, I was set to run a prayer event on the other side of the country that I was wholly unprepared for, and my best friend was getting married in a week's time, in a different hemisphere. I felt like a couldn't keep going, but I knew I couldn't keep from going.
And God said, "Go. But go easy."
Easy. That same word again that described the work Jesus gives us, and the way He walked through this life.
I'm still learning to take it easy. I have a book deadline in a month and a half, but no matter how I try, the words don't come. I clam up over the simplest of emails these days, and I labor hours over posts like this, only to toss them in the dustbin and start over. Everything in me wants to give up, throw off the burden, and get away. There I was again yesterday, curled in a ball on the carpet, repeating that familiar refrain, "I can't" not because of any storm on the outside, but because of a very real storm on the inside.
When I began this post was just a list of fragment sentences in a beat-up old notebook, but on the back of that notebook in big block letters I've now written: TRY EASY.