He handed the gift back to me with a sheepish smile and an apologetic shrug. “Thanks, anyway, I can’t carry it.” I remembered the online video that he displayed for the world to see as he began his long hike. His backpack was crayon green with sleek black seams, zippers and straps. Before the camera, he crammed it full of every hiking implement that had been labeled “essential” at REI. It was originally at least twice as full as it was now, many miles and weeks later.
He had learned to travel light. No thank you on those mints. They would add to his weight, he crisply stated. Even his shirt was paper-fine and synthetic, light as a feather. He wasn’t bearing any more of a burden than was required for trail survival.
He was, in fact, the complete opposite of many of us. What isn’t in my purse? You never know what you’ll need: band-aids, tissue, a pad of paper, several pens, mints? Working in a high school, you see the burden these kids take on. Backpacks full of books, and an armful, too. The airlines have challenged us to fit it all in one carry-on, or pay the price. We arrive at our destination, regretting that we didn’t pack the black sweater, and we never used the khaki one. Stuff, stuff, stuff. It can run our lives.
Last weekend I was telling friends how excited I was that three of my children would be away for two full weeks. I was going to clean like I haven’t in years! I would get so much done, it would be amazing!
Here it is, a week later, and we have not had water all week. Even the plumber can’t fix it. We are waiting on a part that has already arrived and been defective once. And yesterday the orthopedist said that I had not one, but two fractures in my foot.
The airlines have challenged us to fit it all in one carry-on, or pay the price.
I tried to fall asleep without painkillers last night. I prayed as I tossed and turned. I tried a pillow under my leg, but it was too hard. A bunched-up fleece throw was too soft. Nothing was just right. I was miserable.
I listened, and prayed as the night passed. As I read Scripture this morning, I realized that the Jesus that was with me last night was the same man who was with the crowds that are written about in the Gospels. Hebrews 13:8 tells us, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” When Jesus spoke to the crowds back then, He was speaking to us now.
Matthew 9:36 describes how Jesus reacted to the mobs of people that surrounded Him; “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” These people were not in comfortable beds with an overheard fan and ice water on the side table. They were out in the middle of nowhere. But His compassion was for them, and is for us.
Jesus was non-conventional and intriguing. He told stories that seemed to have deeper meanings, and still exuded concern and love.
“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.”
My 9 year old son and I are reading Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder this week. It is part of our trek through the time-honored Little House on The Prairie series. On the cover is the classic illustration of two young oxen by Garth Williams. The oxen are struggling to move forward with a newly-carved yoke placed on them by the farmer’s son. They are learning to work together under the shared yoke in order to effectively pull their load.
A yoke is a “wooden crosspiece that is fastened over the necks of two animals.” The yoke connects the animals and keeps them moving forward at the same rate and more equally distributes the weight of the load that they are pulling. There are also one-person yokes. You may have seen pictures of people in other countries who have two loads, one hanging down on each side of them, balanced from a bar that is carried across the person's shoulder.
He sees the baggage that we carry, no matter how heavy, and what it contains.
If you walk through a backpacking store, there is one word that you will see, and you will see it in every font, color, and size, in its two main spellings; “light” or “lite.” Usually, the lighter a piece of gear, the more sophisticated, and expensive. We value lightness. Have you had your luggage weighed at the airport? They care about every fraction of every pound,
The word light spoken by Jesus in this passage in Matthew is the Greek word elaphros (el-af-ros’). It simply means light, not burdensome. He is telling the weary crowds that He will provide relief and help for them. He can share the weight with us. As we carry our emotional, spiritual and practical burdens, when we come alongside Him, they become less heavy.
Jesus offers to take the yoke onto His shoulders in order to bear some of our weight.
It is when we are walking alongside Jesus that we learn from Him, as He helps us to carry our burdens and cares. Jesus renamed His apostle, Simon, the name Peter, which means “rock.” In I Peter 5:7, Peter admonishes us to “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” Peter, the man that Jesus called a rock, actually found His strength in Jesus! He had learned that Jesus would shoulder our weight, and would take our anxieties and fears onto Himself. Even as a rock, he knew that there was no need to carry these cares on our own.
For some reason, we sometimes like to hold onto our burdens. We perhaps subconsciously feel that we get more credit in heaven (or somewhere) when we struggle up the mountain with a heavier backpack. We then may give the appearance that we are stronger. That’s a lie. 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 refutes this deception;
“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me.That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
Jesus doesn’t weigh or count our burdens. They all matter to Him.
I sent an emergency S.O.S. last night. “Please pray!” I texted my prayer warrior friends and family. Then I prayed, and He took my burden. The only noise in my unusually quiet house this hour is the washing machine. My foot is up and has stopped throbbing. My coffee is on ice, brewed from filtered faucet water.
OK, so worse things can happen than no water and a broken foot. Praise God that these momentary trials are so easily fixed (see 2 Corinthians 4:17)! But sometimes it can take little to overwhelm us, sometimes because we are weary from carrying various concerns for so long. Jesus doesn’t weigh or count our burdens. They all matter to Him. In the last 24 hours He has stood beside me, and He has reminded that He wants to share the load that has weighed me down and overwhelmed me. I have learned and am grateful to Him.