by Sherry Sommer

Just out of college,  I worked as a church receptionist at an historic church in Boston. The lead pastor was  a kind man who would sometimes stop to chat. After a counseling session one day, he mused: “The issues people talk to me about are rarely their real issues.”  This seemed profound and intriguing, but I didn’t have enough life experience to understand what he meant. At the time, I didn’t know how much he described my situation.  God has been so good over the years helping me understand how my distorted ideas about myself, and about Him, are the real issues I had to understand. Pondering the pastor’s word and seeing how they apply to my life has been  like observing sculpture emerging from a block of marble. 

These verses from Matthew 11 get right to the heart of how Jesus can help us understand the root problems of our lack of rest and satisfaction:

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” Matthew 11:28-30 The Message 

Because we  don’t feel adequate, we compensate by working hard.

We talk about burnout and weariness as a modern phenomenon, but it isn’t. Jesus is speaking to an audience that is weary and worn out. Perhaps they were worried about keeping food on the table. Maybe they didn’t have children, which  was one of the most significant achievements in that culture.  We don’t really know their frustrations. 

Just out of college, I felt inadequate because I had  graduated with honors but hadn’t found a job that really fit me. I felt so ashamed of myself that I had moved to Boston on a whim, hoping something would work out. Actually my life had only become harder and more miserable.  I disliked the city, had few friends, and couldn’t  find a job that was a good fit.   All my efforts to compensate had left me empty, afraid, and I became more and more consumed with self doubt.

 Jesus  doesn’t want  employees, He wants  friends.

 Unlike other people, or ourselves,  Jesus doesn’t want us to prove ourselves. He wants  to spend time with us and  to teach us.  It can be difficult to visualize this. Imagine someone you really liked and admired saying, “Let’s take a walk today, what do you say? We can have a good conversation. I’m working on a project and I think you’d be really good at it –– want to work on it together?  My first thought would be, “That’s a definite yes!”  This is what Jesus is inviting us to.  

 At the stage in life I was in after graduating, I had trouble trusting that Jesus was able and willing to  help me.   Rather than walking with Jesus.  I was just trying to keep all the rules with the hope that I’d eventually get to solid ground. My efforts were as useful as  treading water in circles.  It took me a long time to realize that the choices I had made and the circumstances I was in were not my actual problem. Working hard without trusting God’s guidance was my problem.

When we walk with Jesus, we can do the work that we were made to do and get the rest we require.

We talk about having a “work-life balance” and “finding meaningful work”. We live in a society that is unimaginably more prosperous than that of Jesus’ day, so we have the luxury to  have these expectations. However, people in Jesus’ time also wanted meaningful work that left time for rest and enjoyment. 

I had been raised to believe that I needed to work constantly and intensely to avoid poverty. I was taught to do whatever it took to survive. Finding a meaningful job and being able to take time to  rest seemed like luxuries I could not enjoy. I was like a feral animal, always trying to avoid danger and to survive. Trusting Jesus intermittently, I’d   think –– ”I haven’t kept up my guard!” when I hit a rough patch. Then I’d  revert to my anxious and insecure ways.

 Thank God He has taught me over the years to trust Him both in good and difficult times.  I have been able to find meaningful work. I live in Louisville, a town I love, and I have good friends. It’s an honor to  be  part of the South community.  Jesus has turned my anxious and scrappy approach to life into resourcefulness and trust, and He has provided for all my needs. With Jesus I can work and rest knowing that He keeps watch and is able to guide and protect.  Thank you, Jesus. 

“Turn Around” by Matt Maher just popped up in my playlist. What a perfect song for this devotional! I hope you get a minute to listen to it.