The Easy Yoke

Come to me all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, 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 is burden light. – Matthew 11:28-30
I take a lot on myself. At present, I am working two part-time jobs, helping to found a grassroots community organizing group, and nurturing a new Quaker Meeting on Capitol Hill. Taking into account my commitments to Ohio Yearly Meeting, my marriage, and all the practical duties that come with being a householder, it is amazing that I sleep.
Not only do I sleep, I dream. Despite all of my existing responsibilities and projects, I continue to envision what the next steps might be. What is the next action? What will be the next project? How might my community be further energized and equipped? Even as I busy myself with the present work, my mind races ahead to next steps. I keep my eyes on the big picture.
This is good. I have learned by now that part of my role in community is to help cast vision. We sometimes get so caught up in the details of what we are already doing that we miss out on the new possibilities that God is opening up. We can get so fixated on technique that we lose the sense of overarching purpose that originally inspired us. Dreams are important in reminding us why we agreed to work so hard in the first place, and they often call us into new areas of growth and struggle.

But it is possible to dream too much – or in the wrong way. For me, the danger in dreaming comes in the form of delusions of grandeur. Because I am gifted to see the big picture with great clarity, I am often fooled into imagining that I can guide and direct the flow of history. I almost inevitably write myself into the script as an heroic figure, looking back to the great heroes of my faith – Paul of Tarsus, George Fox, Margaret Fell and James Nayler, for example – and seeing their high-profile examples as models for my own life.

This puts a lot of pressure on me. Though identifying with past heroes can be empowering, it can also lead to burn-out. This is probably because the heroes that I look up to represent something far bigger than themselves. In a sense, these high-profile men and women embody the witness of an entire community. When I look to Paul of Tarsus, I am really admiring the early Christian Church. When I am inspired by George Fox, it is actually the entire constellation of early Quaker leaders that influence me.

While it is tempting to fixate on an historical rock star like Margaret Fell, the reality is that she played an important, but limited role in an extended community that, as a whole, carried out an heroic mission. She did not do everything herself; rather, she used those gifts that the Spirit gave her to play the role that God assigned.

In my experience, this is at least part of why Jesus counsels us not to worry. He instructs us to focus on “today’s trouble” – the tasks, situations and people that we have been given to care for in this time and circumstance. Keeping our eyes on Jesus, and on the particular work he calls us into, there is freedom from the sense of helplessness that comes when we imagine that we have to do everything.
The easy yoke of Jesus is knowing that we are responsible to only one Master, and that God has given each of us particular gifts and responsibilities in this life. His easy yoke is knowing that true heroism consists not of doing everything, but of faithfully playing our part in a broader community. Our Savior’s burden is light because he frees us from the myth of the rugged individual, with its assumption that each of us must be self-sufficient. We come to experience that we were each made for a purpose, and that God is ultimately in control.

What has been your experience of Jesus’ easy yoke? Can you relate to the burden that I have described, the pressure to do everything? What are other ways that God is liberating you from those burdens that you do not need to carry? How is the Holy Spirit revealing your particular calling, and empowering you to live into it?