The Yoke and Burden

I’m grateful God gave us the saints to inspire us.  Especially the ones who lived lives like most of the rest of us:  filled with weakness, foibles and falls.  David is one of my favorite characters in the Bible.  The man “after God’s own heart” gives me hope: continually up and down, living in times of both extreme consolation and desolation, and obviously living a life where he had difficulty controlling his passions.  If an adulterer and murderer can be in God’s good graces, well there’s hope for me and the rest of humanity.

I like Jonah a lot too.  God says to him, “go to Nineveh.”  Nope.  Off to Tarshish he goes.  God hounded him, and then when he finally comes to his senses, God saves him through the most bizarre means and sends him on his mission.  Then, if that’s not enough, Jonah gets angry at God for not destroying the city he was sent to warn to repent.  (Isn’t this proof that God uses weak people to do his work?)  The denouement, (which always makes me laugh when I read the story) is how histrionic and filled with self pity Jonah becomes when the plant dies that’s providing him shade.  One of the most pathetic moments of all of Scripture comes from Jonah’s mouth:

When the sun came up God appointed a scorching east wind, and the sun beat down on Jonah’s head so that he became faint and begged with all his soul to die, saying, “Death is better to me than life.”

I’m grateful that Jonah was filled with depression and self pity, that Moses refused to speak for God, that St. Peter rebuked Christ three times, that Gideon didn’t trust God right away, and that one of our cherished saints is called Doubting Thomas.

The saints are human, just like me.  Filled with ups and downs, successes and failures in virtue, and susceptible to temptation.  Right now, I’m thinking of the many emotional and psychological ups and downs of David, since I find myself living in a moment of desolation.

St. Ignatius’ teaching on desolation and consolation is, well, a great consolation to me.  It’s refreshing to know that these ups and downs have been the pattern of life for all the saints.  I often find myself in a valley of sorts after a long trip away from home, when the reality of daily living sets in and the responsibilities which I gladly left behind make themselves known to me in stark reality.  After five weeks from home, after an amazing trip across the country, it’s back to the reality of the daily grind.  I don’t know what it’s like for the rest of humanity, but for me, after a vacation I’m less likely to feel a sense of rejuvenation than I am to fall into a bit of a funk for a few days–or longer.

I’ve lived long enough to know that this is the pattern of my life, but I only seem to recognize it after it happens.  I don’t seem to have enough memory to know preemptively that it will happen, but every time it does, I recognize it.  With the inevitable post vacation funk comes a swirl of temptations, focused on all of the ways in which I have tried in my life to find earthly consolation for the spiritual desolation I feel.

Of course, these means are always insufficient.  The thing to do in times of desolation is to take it to the Cross.  The only real answer that has ever been a salve for the times of desolation in my life come through the grace of God, when He seems to whisper to me, “take it up, on behalf of so-and-so.”

The temptations for me that have the greatest pull for me in times of desolation are, and always have been, related to my flesh.  I want to feel good, somehow, right now.  My rational mind knows that none of the sensual pleasures of the world satisfy, but the temptations that call to me with a siren song during times like these so often can overcome my reason and my resolve.  How comforting it is that one of the cornerstones of our faith, St. Paul said of himself in Romans 7, “the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want.”

It’s easy to follow God in times of consolation–which is exactly why he brings us into desolation.  It’s there where we truly understand our need for Him.  What makes it clear to us is when we see, as St. Paul did, a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members.”

It is in times of desolation where we truly realize what Christ says in John 15:5, “apart from me, you can do nothing.”  Though it goes against my nature, I’ve realized that the times of desolation are the ones I need to be truly grateful for, since it’s then that I realize my true need for God.  It’s times like these that I echo what St. Paul said, “Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin.”

As I walked through Costco today, restocking after my month long trip away, I realized I was walking around in the malaise of a blue funk.  I felt a little sorry for myself, like Jonah did.  I felt some pretty keen feelings of loneliness after spending a few nights with couples who are very much in love with each other.  Our Enemy likes to whisper to me thoughts of envy when I see how nonchalantly a boyfriend caresses the arm of his girlfriend in a restaurant, showing quietly the power of touch to convey love and caring, something that  those with same sex attraction, desirous of following the Church, probably won’t experience.  The tender caresses of people in love I think are the easiest means by which Our Enemy desires me to envy for others, because it genuinely fills me with an aching longing to have that in my life.  (I am reminded of the wise quote of C. S. Lewis:  It is quite useless knocking at the door of Heaven for earthly comfort:  it’s not the sort of comfort they supply there.)

Shopping for groceries for one can be a painful experience when one is in a desolation.  But sometimes, as today, the grace of God shines down through the blanketing clouds like a momentary ray of light, saying, “this way.”  As I walked around, filling my cart, thinking about the temptations that have been assailing me, thinking about the funk I’ve been in, it seemed God said, “For whom are you willing to carry this?”

I’m convinced God views our times of desolation as invitations.  Not merely to understand our entire need for him when temptations assail us, but to unite our spiritual funk to the Cross.  Literally to lift the depression we feel, willfully, onto our backs, on behalf of someone.  I immediately thought of the nephew of one of my friends, who I just found out lives with same sex attraction and is right now living a secret life addicted to pornography and cruising online for guys.  God brought him to mind, and through His grace asked me, “So…are you willing to strap this funk on your back, for him?”  Yes, Sir, I am!

The only means of peace and joy I have ever found in times of desolation comes when God gives me the grace to carry it for others, to willfully choose it, rather than be subject to its whims.  This is a powerful tool for redeeming times of desolation.  The desolations of same sex attraction can be profoundly painful, and these periods of desolation in the life of so many of us, especially our experience of profound loneliness from time to time, seems to fly in the face of Christ’s words:  “My yoke is easy and my burden is light,” and yet this is our call:  to take it up, even if it doesn’t always feel easy or light.

I have come to think about his yoke and burden in different ways that we naturally think about, in light of the saints.  St. Aelred of Rievelaux has changed my entire view of Christ’s yoke.  He said the profoundly beautiful words, “His yoke is charity, his burden is brotherly love.”  It’s not that the yoke and burden are easy–they become easy, because of the love of Christ flowing through us, when we choose to offer them up on behalf of someone else.

I’m reminded often in times like this of the beautiful scene in Fr. Robert Barron’s Catholicism series where he points to one of the most horrific portrayals of the Crucifixion I’ve ever seen.  He points to the Cross, and says that here is a picture of the most joy filled person who ever lived.  This, I’m convinced, is what it meant when Christ says His yoke is easy, and his burden is light.  The pains of life become easy and light, when we choose to accept and embrace them, with our will, out of love for others.  I think this is what is meant by becoming “living sacrifices.”

I don’t know how long this funk will last this time around.  But through the grace of God, I’ll carry it for my friend’s nephew.  It doesn’t make it less of a funk, but I’m convinced, through God’s economy, it does great good. And it makes it much more bearable.

(But I’d still like it to go away).

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8 thoughts on “The Yoke and Burden

  1. This is really beautiful Daniel. I can relate to this, but maybe differently? I’m not SSA, and am married, but we can still feel those peeks and valleys of loneliness too. It’s crazy how we can have someone here under the same roof, but still able to feel alone, emotionally. I guess we take it to the cross, and know that this is not the end of it all. There is a much better place in which we all aim to be. I too am after God’s heart.

    Peace to you!

    Rhonda

    Sent from my iPad

    • I think you’re right–too many people think that marriage will be the end of loneliness, which is one reason why there are so many divorces. Marriage, or whatever state we find ourselves in life, is primarily intended for our sanctification, and part of that sanctification is learning that God is our only source of happiness.

      God bless you!

  2. I appreciate your perspective in all of this, how we are to refer our own personal struggles to the cross, along with the added dimension of offering it up for souls. It’s the only thing that makes sense for me in my own personal trails and tribulations. I try to see all of it now as an opportunity to be like Christ—to pick up my cross and follow him.

    Regarding loneliness… I read something awhile ago by a Protestant pastor that really struck me,

    ” I am lonely. Any echo in your own heart, or is it just me? Those who know me casually might be surprised to see such a confession. After all, I am a pastor leading a bustling church, and my life is a swirl of people and relationships. On any given night, there are hundreds of homes I could call or stop by for a warm welcome. I am living proof that you can be lonely in a crowd.

    […]

    Loneliness has an edge to it. Its sting comes from the reality of God’s image stamped on us. As Genesis 1:27 makes clear, from the inception of our being and design, we were made by God and for God. This provides us with a spiritual and relational capacity to relate to God that only God can fill and satisfy. As Augustine famously said, “Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in thee.” We tend to wrongly interpret why we feel as we do. We think we need ______________(fill in the blank) for the ache to go away, but all of these _____________ (s) are shadows of the reality. Friends and other companions may be a wonderful blessing, but they are neither ultimate nor adequate for a heart made for God. Loneliness acts like a divine sticky note that says, ‘Don’t forget for whom you were made.'”

    I love that last part about loneliness acting like a divine sticky note. The article is really worth reading in full here: http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc/2011/08/04/lonely-me-a-pastoral-perspective/

    God Bless!

    • Thanks for the comments, and the link to the article. I like the idea of loneliness being a divine sticky note. It’s good we’re restless, and that we feel the ache of loneliness from time to time. It’s reminder that we don’t belong here, that here isn’t home, and that we’re made for God, and God alone.

      God bless, and thanks for stopping by!

  3. Thank you for your eloquent writing. Your story brings to light a way to handle the burdens of life’s downs, feeling lonely. I am so glad to have found your blog.

  4. Nathaniel, I am a young adult 20 years of age. I go to a charismatic christian church and was searching for some stuff on God’s burden being light. I wanted to thank you for taking the time to write out what God had given you to say! It was extremely encouraging and helped me to better grasp this concept. Thank you for letting God use you even through your difficulties the fact that you are willing to be open and transparent about your struggle and continue to live as God commanded us to is inspiring! Much thanks from your younger brother in Christ!

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