"Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest."
--Matthew 11:28 NASV
I have far too many fellow Christian friends and associates who are exhausted, even burnt out; physically and emotionally thrashed from career and ministry expectations and the stress of involvement in personal relationships, family and otherwise, that are highly dysfunctional. From nearly all of them I have heard quoted the biblical verse above, sometimes with an air of "quiet desperation" and sometimes not so quiet!
This morning I have been thinking about that verse of Scripture, trying to compare it against other words of Jesus when he spoke to his weary followers and I am wondering if we are applying the concept correctly in our own lives.
It seems we tend to pray for strength and grace in all our stressful situations while continuing to attempt to power through them either under our own strength, or without taking advantage of possible changes in those situations that are making life miserable.
For me, one of the keys in this verse is the "come to Me" phrase. Coming to something implies leaving something else.
Are we willing to search for ways to step away, even temporarily, from the work or relationship that is stressing us so badly? Are we willing to find out if there are medical or stress leaves or sabbaticals available to give us a chance to back away from work and ministry long enough to regain our equilibrium, to reconnect with the rest that Jesus so generously and sincerely offers us? Are we willing to admit that sometimes the best way to deal with a dysfunctional relationship is to walk away in order to restore normalcy to our own lives, or at the very least, take a long enough break away from it to refresh and regroup for the next onslaught that is unavoidable in the long run?
Very importantly, are we willing to accept the possibility that we may not be as indispensible in the stressful situation as we think we are?
Not wanting to sound overly simplistic, I do though wonder if some of the ways we have to come to Jesus for rest are not far more simple than we allow them to be. We complicate our lives sometimes by being overly certain of our own importance in our work, ministries and relationships. It is incredibly difficult to truly come to Jesus in prayer and rest when our minds are so distracted by the stresses we are dealing with...we can pay lip service to the idea, but are we willing to even attempt to find ways out of the mire we are stuck in? Perhaps one clue to our own unwillingness to truly do what is required to relax into the offered rest of Jesus is how prickly and defensive we get when others who are close to us, who can see we are in danger of harming our health, tell us we need to find a way to remove that stress from our lives.
I have learned that jobs and ministries carry on very well without me in a remarkably short time after my departure. I have learned that my refusal to participate any longer in certain dysfunctional relationships has either made little difference to the other person/people involved anyway, or has actually created an opening for them to start relationships with others who have helped heal the situation far more quickly and deeply than I ever was. Once I got out of the way, not only was I set free from the stress but so where they!
Every situation is different for each person of course, but I really wonder if finding the key to unlocking the power of the quoted scripture is dependent upon finding out what we need to "go from" in order to "come to" Jesus and his rest.