“Come to Me all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30
These words were an arrow to my heart as I sat long after the sun had set and left me alone with my thoughts. With the semester wearing on, like most Harvard students, I experience the crush of productivity and of expectations for success. As the summer sun grows old and feeble, I too feel my strength and my resilience inevitably waning. Rest, ease, lightness. This indeed is what I need, and Christ offers it personally and lovingly. As expressed in his invitation here, Christ’s care for us is the joy of the New Testament, of a personal and loving God who knows our pain and weariness, and does not discount them. Instead, he gives us a choice.
My hopes for instant rest are perhaps a bit hasty, upon reconsideration. Yoke? Burden? Not exactly carefree words. An ox yoked to a cart is certainly not the imagery I might hope for myself. In fact, the more I think of it, the more Christ’s invitation does not seem to promise an easy way to happiness and rest, but rather a whole new problem. How can I take up another labor and yet still receive any rest? Can a burden be light?
Christ’s invitation to come to him is another of the many paradoxes and mysteries of a faith that delights in contradiction. As G.K. Chesterton said in Orthodoxy, “whenever we feel there is something odd in Christian theology, we shall generally find that there is something odd in the truth.” In Christianity, God is one yet three, Christ is both God and Man, dead but resurrected. Christians are in the world but not of it, will lose their life but yet save it, are weak but through God are made strong. Through our very human nature, we are “a being at once earthly and heavenly, insecure and immortal, visible and invisible, halfway between greatness and nothingness, flesh and spirit at the same time” (St. Gregory Nazianzen, Oration 45, For Easter).
We all long for rest from daily problems and our own profound difficulties, and sometimes we question, I question why my troubles happen, whether God remembers me in my pain. As difficult as it is to remember at times, he does. He wishes to take my weariness and the pain, and instead give me peace and rest, but he also does not offer a simple solution. As always, God makes his offer, and then waits for me to agree of my own free will. His offer is a yoke and a burden, sometimes called the cross of the Christian life. As much love as God has, he also asks for dedication and exertion in order to give me his rest. Sometimes, this seems impossible. I am already sacrificing too much for my own goals; I cannot drain myself for Christ as well. Yet to my own confusion, I find (and here is the paradox) that the more I sacrifice under Christ’s yoke, honestly, the more rewarding and peaceful my life. I can bear more than ever I thought I could, but only when I actively try to go to Christ and to accept a rest that is for my weary, aching soul, as well as my tired eyes.