It’s winter in Melbourne and along with the wind chill I am hosting one of those viruses that manage to dodge flu vaccine. Which means I am barking like a seal and generally feeling a bit sore and sorry for myself. Or I could be scriptural, and describe it as a yoke about my neck, a yoke that I am failing to find light or easy. Jesus’s words about light burdens and easy yokes can be confronting.
In one way or another all of us are burdened. There are times, many times, when we feel like those yoked oxen of former days, plodding along, one foot in front of the other, envying others whose lives look so much freer and lighter than our own. The burdens we carry are personal, sometimes obvious, often hidden from others. They may not always bend our backs but they sure bend our spirit. They keep us awake at night, they make us cry, sometimes we shake our fist at God and cry, “Why me?”. Mostly we straighten our shoulders and ‘soldier on’, but not always. If we let them, these unloved loads we reluctantly carry can sour our life and kill relationships.
Recently in the eclectic mix that is an Aldi store, I watched a young mum ask her patient little toddler clutching the stroller handle if he would like to carry the sheet set she had just chosen. He perked up a little, nodded, and struggled a few steps towards the register queue before dropping it at her feet with the comment, “Too heavy, ” and bursting into tears. And don’t we all feel like doing that sometimes.
Sometimes I toy with the idea of swapping my life burdens with someone else. Not with a Syrian grandmother whose sons have died young and whose grandchildren are now homeless, their village gutted. My middle class expectations would break under that burden. I don’t fancy carrying a memory of childhood sexual abuse either. A friend is facing redundancy in a month or two, a daunting prospect for a single mother with a mortgage and one that I’ve never had to face and never want to. The list is endless, the pain people carry defies words.
In what is possibly one of the most loved and comforting sentences he ever spoke, Jesus said, “Come to me all you who labour and are overburdened and I will give you rest. “ Jesus lived his whole life amid the difficulties, struggles and injustice of living under a foreign power. He was familiar with the illnesses that ostracized the disabled, he modelled a counter-cultural relationship with women, he was scathing about the multitude of religious rules that made ordinary life so difficult and God so distant.
When I hear good meaning people say things like, “God knew what he was doing when he gave you this cross to carry”, I get angry. My God is not some kind of accountant or human resource manager, working out how much a person can actually achieve, or carry, in a day and then adding on a bit more. My God is compassionate. When everything seems too much, the invitation, “Come to me” rings down through the centuries.
In return, can I be any less compassionate toward those others who labour and are heavily burdened ?