Dig Deeper into Sunday’s Gospel: Read Matthew 11:25–30
When Jim Gaffigan’s wife told him camping was a tradition in her family, he quipped, “It was a tradition in everyone’s family till we invented the house.” Growing up in northern Minnesota, I saw it as something of a rite of passage. The Boundary Waters Canoe Area was within close driving distance, and our youth group took a two-week excursion there each summer. I really cannot imagine what would prompt a youth minister to want to take a group of fifteen teenagers into this wilderness with over one million acres of rugged and remote forest. Cell phones had not been invented, bears were always around, and we had one sixteen-year-old girl who kept eating all the M&M’S in the trail mix. None of us had any idea what we were doing. Nevertheless, we set out on our adventure, backpacks and canoes in tow.
One of the big challenges was portaging—carrying your canoe and cargo over a trail that connected two lakes. Considering how unmuscular and completely lacking in athletic ability I was, it amazes me that I participated in this. I actually carried a canoe, all by myself, from one lake to the other. To hoist it on my shoulders, I started with the canoe upside down. Facing the front of the canoe, I lifted the bow, keeping the stern on the ground. While holding it up, I got underneath it and walked backward toward the yoke (a crossbeam in the canoe's center). I fit the yoke on my shoulders, tilted the bow end slightly forward and downward until the stern rose off the ground, balanced it all, and then moved forward.
All this reminds me of this Sunday’s gospel reading from Matthew 11:28–30. Jesus said to His followers,
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
I’m picturing myself as that skinny, awkward high schooler, balancing a canoe on my shoulders, somehow carrying it from one lake to another. I contrast this with a picture of myself as an adult, laden with problems and heartaches, feeling crushed under their weight. Could it be that the yoke I am carrying was not designed for me by the Lord?
Currently, I’m reading a book on the history of Russia. Whether my interest was piqued more by my Ukrainian friend Viktoria or by reading War and Peace, I’m not sure. But as I delve into history, listen to my friend’s stories, and watch the news, my heart feels leaden. Yet nothing compares to what it feels like to shoulder the burdens of my own family. The heaviness, powerlessness, and hopelessness flatten me.
The world’s problems, plus my own, can tempt me to give up.
Thinking about the things I carry, I know I am not alone. You also have your own story, and that story matters. The worries that gnaw at your mind, the miracles you long for, the dreams you’ve let die—God sees it all, and no detail has escaped His notice. If you feel your knees buckling with all you are trying to carry, I can assure you God is not a disinterested observer of your plight. He is right there beside you. He offers you a way to carry your load that will allow you to portage uncharted trails, no matter how weak and weary you might be.
He's not telling you to drop the load, kick it to the side, and ignore your feelings. He’s also not telling you that the only thing that matters is you—therefore, you don’t have to do anything about the brokenness you are observing. What He is doing is inviting you to try out a new yoke—one that’s tailor-made by Him to fit your shoulders.
It’s interesting that the yoke of a canoe is a cross beam in the center. The new yoke is found in the quiet center—a place we create where we quiet down. This requires choosing to create a clearing in our lives so that we can hear God’s voice. We clear away the noise that comes from our social media feeds, news outlets, podcasts, music, and Netflix queues. We clear the voices clamoring for us to scratch the itch of our discontent by buying more and more.
We wait in that quiet clearing and lift our eyes to the cross. We ask God to tell us:
What is it in this heavy world that He desires us to carry?
Where are we being called to step in?
In what areas is He asking us to hold back because that is someone else’s calling?
We wait for the call rather than acting on an impulse, a desire to control, or a need to do something. We take a deep breath, remembering that God is God, and we are not.
Pastor Jon Tyson understands well the heaviness that can result from caring deeply. He writes,
“If you are weary, cup your hands under the fountain of grace and drink deeply. You do not have to save the world, and you are not the savior of the world. But you are called to a work of redemption that is waiting for you. A work where the yoke fits properly and the pace is right. A work of love and presence of care for those the father gives you. Those are indeed so worthy of care.”
When we answer God’s call, He is underneath the canoe with us, lifting it up and gently placing it on shared shoulders. He walks alongside us and never leaves us to portage the unknown unaccompanied. With Him, we can endure the unimaginable. With Him, we can persevere through the unthinkable. With Him, we can wait for the miracle that is sure to come. The darkest hour is the hour before dawn.
With you on the journey,
Food for thought or journaling…
What are the burdens you are carrying? List them. Spend some time in prayer asking the Lord the following questions:
Is there something You are asking me to do about this?
Are You calling me to wait patiently and pray instead of calling me to action?
What is it that I am trying to control in this situation?
Dear Lord, I want to have a tender and open heart, but all the things I see form a weight that sits on my chest. Please take this burden. I ask You for Your yoke in its place. Help me to know what You are calling me to do. Help me to have peace in the areas of concern where You are calling me to pray and wait. Give me insight into what is my calling and what is someone else’s calling. Help me not to fall into the trap of seeing prayer as inaction. Help me to remember that prayer moves mountains. Amen.