“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 NIV)
I depended on those words for a long time. They were my touchstone during times of heartache, despair, anguish, or loss.
When life became difficult, when being a preacher/ elder, husband or father became overwhelming, I drew great comfort from believing that Jesus would give me rest.
And maybe He did.
Maybe it was friends or family being the hands of Jesus to me when some of the burdens were lifted.
Maybe, when my nerves were at the breaking point, it was the Comforter, whom Jesus promised, soothing my spirit, calming my fears, and easing my anxiety.
Stress? I wasn’t always the first person to recognize how stressed and up tight I could become.
There was once a time in the U.S. Navy when my neck hurt–I couldn’t turn my head at all. If I needed to look in a certain direction, I had to turn my body to see. Finally I went to a base physician. After a thorough examination where nothing physical was found wrong, he asked if I had any stress in my life.
Me? Stress? Absolutely not. Stress was for wimps. I was the Man of Steel. Or at least Batman.
So he asked me to talk about my life at that point…
So I told him… I was home on emergency leave because of Cole’s initial diagnosis of Cerebral Palsy. While there, my beloved grandfather died. On the way to the funeral, the motor on our four year old car burned up, one month after the warranty expired. After taking out a loan, the motor was replaced. We made the trip back to Norfolk, Va. and settled down for this new life with a handicapped child. A month later, Cole’s diagnosis was changed to Leukodystrophy, a fatal brain disease that would slowly turn Cole incommunicative, a bedridden boy who only had an early death to look forward to.
And my neck hurt. But I had no stress. And the doctor laughed.
After he explained the effects of stress on the body, my neck returned to normal almost just by acknowledging what we were experiencing.
Over the years, I grieved and mourned Cole’s condition. At times I was full of hope. At other times, I was more accepting, not quite resigned, but with a kind of contentment that things would be ok.
But I never completely understood why God didn’t step in. For Cole. For the boy who wanted to do everything everybody else did. For the boy who when he hit the ball for the first time in a T-ball game fell over backwards and layed in the dirt laughing like a crazy child for the sheer joy of it.
In all this, somewhere I thought if I could just be the kind of man God wanted, my prayer would be answered. My burden, Cole’s burden would be lifted.
But that would never be the case this side of eternity.
As it was, not only would those prayers go unanswered (or at least answered the way I wanted), I was also unable to protect him from an evil that wanted to do even more harm.
Turns out some burdens are for life. Some burdens are a part of your journey. Some burdens just are.
And Jesus’s words? They were my favorite verses in the Bible. I guess they still are, but they mean something totally different.
In the context of Jesus life and ministry, they were not a promise to ease every difficulty, struggle, or heartache.
Instead, Jesus offered to lift the burden, to ease the pressure of religion.
Religion? Yes religion.
After years of preaching, teaching, baptizing, and ministering to people, I needed something more than the theological framework of my life. Like the Jews of Jesus’ day, I had a religion, but what I needed most was a relationship.
These days, the things that mattered so much to me… the doctrines I had built my life around… the knowledge I had accumulated through multiple degrees and years of study… those things have their place, but they are of little comfort without a relationship with the One who made me.
I don’t know where I fit these days in the religious world. At this point I don’t really care. There are bigger fish to fry.
But Jesus promised to ease my burden.
So I will keep wrestling with Him until He (through our relationship) does…
I am burdened, how about you?
Les Ferguson, Jr.