In times of struggles and suffering we’re often told to “Offer it up for Christ.” We’re repeatedly reminded that if we don’t take up our Cross and follow Him in suffering, then we can’t begin to hope to have a share in His glory. So, we grit our teeth and persevere, often realizing with hindsight that we’ve become a much better person for it all.
At the centre of all this, though, is ourselves. We see this as our victory over suffering, our own personal gain of God’s promised grace. Perhaps this is why we find our burdens to be so difficult, we’re focused on ourselves and our suffering, rather than on God and the grace that pulls us through.
That’s why in time of struggles I like another image, that of the yoke of Christ, better.
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 burden is light. (Mt. 11:28-30)
With a yoke, there is still struggle, there is still a burden. Just watch a team of oxen straining to pull a cart through the mud, and you can see just how burdensome a yoke can be. Yet the Yoke of Christ is different; He promises us that it will be easy and light.
When the world is crashing down around our ears; When the burden we carry seems more like the Cross of Christ and the hill we are climbing is that of Calvary; When we seem to be as lonely as Christ crucified; When we are weary and carrying a heavy burden; how can we find rest?
Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me;
Yes, the wood of the yoke is heavy and rough. You may not even want to be constrained by the yoke. But take up the yoke, because it is easy and light.
Firstly, with a yoke you are never alone. Just as oxen are always yoked in a team, we too are yoked with another – Christ. Jesus is not the driver, whipping us to coerce more out of our struggles. He is yoked beside us, helping us to carry the burden that, if carried alone, would be too much for just one individual to bear. If we listen to Him and learn from Him, our burden, and His, will become easy and light.
Also, ox drivers will tell you that, although the oxen are yoked together, there is always one who takes the lead; one who carries most of the burden, leading the other in the direction the driver wants them to go. When we focus on our struggles, trying to find a way to carry our burden ourselves, we take the full weight of it, and often more, on our shoulders. It’s when we look to Christ, allowing Him to lead us in the Father’s will, that we can endure what has been asked of us.
In his book How toListen when God is Speaking, Fr. Mitch Pacwa tells a story of how St. Jerome came across a yoke that was said to have been fashioned by the hands of Christ. Since St. Joseph was a carpenter it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise that, as an adolescent, Christ would have learned the trade of His earthly father. What St. Jerome noticed, and what bears witness that Christ’s yoke will make our burdens easy and light, was that one side of the yoke had been carved distinctly larger than the other, and that the wood there had been worn smooth by the animal that had shouldered it.
Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.