28 “Come to me, all of you who are tired from carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke and put it on you, and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in spirit; and you will find rest. 30 For the yoke I will give you is easy, and the load I will put on you is light.” ~Matthew 11:28-29
When I was a child, my mother and I read several of the books from the Laura Ingalls Wilder Little House on the Prairie series. I remember when she gave me the book entitled Farmer Boy, I looked at the cover with concern. The cow on the right seemed to be in pain and struggling, and I thought maybe the thing around the cows’ necks was hurting it.
My mother explained that the “thing” was a yoke and was not made to be too tight; rather, it actually helped the cow. Instead of one animal having to do all the work, the yoke allowed each animal to carry the burden of the work equally. The animals’ journeying side-by-side could share the load.
As I prepared my message for the contemplative service this week, I remembered this book cover. When I revisited it with fresh eyes, I was drawn to the cow on the left. The face, calm; the body, relaxed; the eyes, peaceful–it waits patiently and knowingly as if to be thinking, “Once you stop struggling, the pain and the burden will lighten.” The word that came to me was “gentle.”
As people of faith, we are quick to use the phrase, “God will never give you more than you can handle.” Sometimes, we use it as a way to console people when we’re not so sure what to say.
When I became a single parent and would break down crying at work, people shared these words with me. I remember thinking, “It’s not God who’s giving me all this, it’s a grumpy preschooler and an overwhelming job and a life unexpected!”
What I came to realize over several months time, is that it’s not what God does or doesn’t give us that’s the issue. Challenges, struggle, and pain will always be a part of life. What’s important to remember is that God is there with us and beside us as we make the journey. Even as we struggle or face challenges, God is there to lighten the load by sharing those burdens. All we are asked to do is to surrender them.
In the United Methodist Church, May is lifted up as Mental Health Awareness month, and I share this information because of the scripture we are contemplating in our service today. Surrendering to God takes many forms, including asking for help from those can be of support. Just as doctors and nurses are instruments of God’s healing for our physical bodies, therapists, social workers, and spiritual directors are God’s instruments for the nurturing of our minds and spirits. Taking care of ourselves should not be a stigma; rather, we are simply living out what scripture calls us to do–resting in the presence of grace and mercy to help ourselves heal.
As we live out our lives in the day-to-day, it is my prayer that we will not forget God’s invitation–sharing our burdens by turning to the gentle hands of the Holy Spirit. It is there that the load is lightened. It is there that we we find rest.