You know the feeling:
either a 300 pound gorilla is sitting on your chest
or you’re about to have a heart attack
or you’re stressed--
striving but not accomplishing, running but not fast enough.
It isn’t pleasant. And it isn’t uncommon.
Most of us have been pushed to the limits only to find out more is required. We’ve given everything we have only to discover we still fall short.
I vividly remember feeling something like this during a recess at Penryn Elementary School. There was a metal pole on the playground; such an object clearly existed for the purpose of being climbed by small boys. It wasn’t very tall, but it towered over me.
I grabbed the slick pole and pulled myself upward with both hands, pushed myself higher with both feet. Straining, I pressed on. Then, from nowhere, I encountered unexpected, breathless, crushing panic—electric, but not energizing; gripping, but not improving my hold. It was like being choked, but no one’s hands were on my neck.
Later, I experienced something of this feeling when running. Others could run to their utter limits and finish in glory. I could run—but instead of falling in a magnificent heap at the finish line or raising my arms in an agony of ecstacy, I wanted to throw up. I did throw up on at least one occasion and felt sick on many others. My stomach, it seemed, was attached to my legs.
In climbing poles, the crushing stress of panic is eliminated easily enough—just let go and drop to the ground. In running, all I needed to do was to stop.
But in many real-life situations, there is no way to stop and we can’t let go. Whatever is squeezing our life out isn’t something that we can quit doing. We’re dunked underwater, and breathing is as impossible as it is essential.
One of my particular stresses right now is the desperate need to “do something,” but not knowing what I should do. I’ve contacted clients and even written a resume (for the first time in my life) and submitted it several places. Now I’m in one of those uncertain waiting modes, wondering what will come next and unable to do anything about it.
This need to do something—to do anything—coupled with real helplessness can be overwhelming. Think about it: Some people would prefer to spend more time on the road going around heavy traffic than sitting bumper-to-bumper with other cars. Why? Because at least they are doing something. It might use more gas and take longer to get to the destination, but something is happening.
In our highly-driven society, inaction is anathema. Action, even the wrong action, is more to our liking. We are raging workaholics, whether our work is beating a deadline or getting to the slopes for a day of skiing. We are doers who must do or die. And in the process we forget to think and live.
Every once in a while, God takes us to our personal limits to remind us that life is about more than doing, that thinking should be deeper than what color socks we should wear. God stops us, He pulls us up short for our good—but the momentum of life can crash us into the brick wall of inability with such force that we wind up breathless and exhausted.
We flail and stamp our feet and shout, “We can’t stop now—we must keep going!” So we lower our heads and charge the wall again, to our own detriment and distress.
Years ago, my brother and I owned two white goats. Most days, we staked them out somewhere on our 4-1/2 acres and tied them to something secure, like a tree. For some unknown reason, many times when we finished filling their water bucket and turned to go, the goats would chase us, full tilt—until they hit the end of their ropes. They flipped and flopped, and surprisingly, didn’t break their necks.
And they never learned. They never looked at the length of their rope and the oak tree to which they were tied and said, “You know, there isn’t really any purpose to slamming into the wall again, is there?”
Too often, we’re like those goats. When we hit the end of our tether, we back up and charge the line again, unmindful of the reality that our pain at the end of the rope will not move the merciful purposes of God.
We cannot stop living, but we can quit straining. We can’t lift our heads above the water—but we can stop screaming beneath the waves.
It’s a like a writer afflicted with writer’s block, that malady particular to those of his tribe. He must write; the assignment is due. But beating his head on the wall will only bruise his scalp, not clear his mind or open the flood-gate for words that will not come.
The answer to stress is not to quit trying. We must try. We must keep laboring. It is something on the inside that must change.
Jesus said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).
What’s astonishing is that Jesus promised rest in the middle of toil, not the absence of the toil itself. He promised a change in the character of labor, not an absence of hard work.
God’s way usually involves working, sometimes in conditions that seem unbearable with prospects that seem impossible. But the person who is joined together with Jesus, who is yoked with Him, finds a new Source of power bearing up beneath the load.
We no longer bear the load alone.
Every line of Jesus’ story demonstrates the incredible rest to which He invites us. From one end of the gospels to the other, we see Jesus, never in a hurry, never pressed beyond measure. He bore sorrows that no other could bear; He worked unthinkable hours; He faced violent animosity; and He knew that the end of it all was a cross. But He never lost His equilibrium. He never thrashed and clutched like a drowning man.
Because He wasn’t drowning and never lost His balance. He had the Power to wait patiently until after His friend Lazarus died—so that the glory of the Father might be displayed. He had the Authority to speak, though His tears were scarcely dry—“Lazarus, come out.” He had the steady Determination to restore breath to Lazarus, though every breath of the living dead was one less of Jesus’ own. “So from that day on they made plans to put Him (Jesus) to death” (John 11:53).
Jesus was settled in the yoke of His Father. He was one with the purposes of God. And He invites us to join Him in working—but it will be His work, not our own.
That is the defining difference for strugglers like me. I’m bent on achievement, something tangible squeezed out of my existence; something I can say makes my life worth living; something that gives me purpose and meaning. But Jesus never inclined even a degree to His own will; He had a riveting purpose, because He was enveloped in the purpose of God. And when we join Him in His yoke, we experience the rest of being satisfied with His plan. We know the fulfillment of laboring in His field that is “white unto harvest” rather than attempting to raise grain in our own barren soil. We know the peace that accepts God’s red light as well as the green.
In the middle of questions of what to do and what to say and how to provide . . . in the middle of concerns that burn like a cauldron within . . . in the middle of wrestling with unknown dangers or well-known troubles, we can rest . . .
When we are yoked with Him.
© Robert G. Robbins 2011