I (Jes Kast) am so happy to welcome back Marcy Rudins this week!
Growing up near Chicago, it always seemed like we had to go, go, go. Swerving in and out of the city, dodging people on the sidewalk, and then manically trying to find parking- and that was just getting to work. I would talk with people I was working alongside, and would hear, “There’s just not enough coffee in the world for this morning” or “Why do I do this to myself?” We would finish the tasks that were set out for us in school or at work, and then we would drag ourselves home through the same looming traffic. Sure we would get some alone time or we’d veg out, but it never seem to satisfy the craving I had.
So I bopped on over to Holland, Michigan for the next seven years. I thought to myself, it’s a smaller town, it will be a slower pace, surely there would be less stress. I would dream of going kayaking for hours, sitting by the lake, and reading novels or poetry. However, once I got my schedule I realized those were pipe dreams. It seemed like when I got there, the chaos followed right along side me like an old friend. Myself and my fellow peers were met with the same expectations, and the same need for an obscene amount of coffee. Only this time when I would hear co-workers or colleagues about how they were doing, they would say, “I’m not doing enough.” They would describe their sixty plus hour work week, town meetings, family gatherings, and little league coaching, and would come to the conclusion that they still weren’t doing enough.
Upon graduation, I came to Fort Plain. An even smaller town, that had the potential to be like Mayberry in my mind. It was the “country living” that I had dreamt about when I was back in Chicago. Although the pace is different, the same amount of coffee is needed here, as elsewhere. I hears from the congregation, and people in the community, share how tired they are. I would hear “I’m burned out” and “I just can’t do this anymore.”
“Why do I do this to myself,” “I’m not doing enough,” and “I’m burned out.” Does anyone else feel the weight of these statements? Even though these are a few comments that have been heard from Chicago, Michigan, and in Fort Plain- they all have a similar root desire.
The need and desire for rest. We are a people in deep need of rest. Where when we hear the phrase “Age of Anxiety,” it doesn’t cause us to pause, but we shrug our shoulders with a resounding “yep, that’s right.” Maybe some rest from work, expectations, anxiety, hurtful comments, guilt, and the lies we tell ourselves that we are not enough. Rest.
So then we come to Eugene Peterson’s translation from “The Message” for our text this morning, and it sounds way too good to be true. He translates the words of Jesus as, “’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.’”
Living freely and lightly? Unforced rhythms of grace? I’m not sure Jesus could possibly know our schedules and know what we’re going through at this day in age. How could we possibly live with lightly with family obligations, friends who are dying, and families that are broken? Or enjoy the ease of living when there are systems of oppression that are weighing down on those who are marginalized, homeless veterans, and political division in our country? Or how could there be freedom when it feels like shame, grief, and the fears of our past continually haunt us?
Really– How is any of what Jesus is saying possible?
Jesus begins by saying, “Come to me.” Another way of saying that could be, “Leave something, so that you may come to me.” When we go somewhere, or we go to someone, we are also in-explicitly leaving something else. With every invitation or action of going somewhere, we are also embracing the idea of leaving. One might even say that in order to have rest, one would first have to leave something or let go.
Theologian Henri Nouwen describes that we are often people that walk around with clenched fists. Clenched fists is the metaphorical idea that we walk around with tension, stress, and cling tightly to the expectations we put on ourselves. After a while, it’s exhausting to hold onto the tightness of the clenched fist, and it can even begin to hurt. The muscles begin to weaken and the nails begin to dig into the tender parts of our hands.
A story that he shares from this is a story of an elderly woman brought to a psychiatric center. She was wild and scattered, so much so that the doctors began taking everything away from her. But there was a small coin that she gripped in her fist and she would not give it up. Apparently it took a couple people to pry open her clenched hand. Almost like is she lost her coin, she would be losing herself along with it. If they took away this coin, who would she be? Is it possible that once she’s lost this last possession she would be nothing more?
In a way we are like this woman. We are scattered, exhausted, and just trying to get by. And yet we are clinging onto the small coin. For some of us that’s our schedules, for others that’s the expectations we perceive others to have of us, and for others that could be the day to day interactions with people that leave us feeling shame or guilt. Or it could also be anger you have been holding onto against a particular person or people group, or how much you have feared what is going on in the world. Who would you be if you let go of all of this? Who would you be if you left those behind?
This is where Jesus meets us. He meets us with an invitation to pry open our hands and experience rest. How is any of this possible? In some cases, not all, I think that how rest becomes possible is that we are asked to let go of something first, and that can make it seem like a challenge rather than an opportunity. When we go through life with clenched fists, holding onto so much, we are left feeling weary and yet also afraid of who we might be once we unlock our fingers to a posture of openness. What would this look like in your life? What would it look like this week? Or even right now?
A practice that I enjoy partaking in, is guided imagery meditation. Typically these types of meditations are paired alongside scripture, and are often read by another person aloud, so that the person receiving this meditation can simply be and relax. While this could happen for you, I’ve found that reading the words slowly and going through the meditation with care, is often just as good enough.
And so I’d like to invite you partake in a guided meditation off of this well known scripture text. I couldn’t help but wonder as I was wiring this, why there wouldn’t be space to practice letting go or even creating some time for rest. Rest, and receiving lightness and ease, first begins by letting go, and coming to Jesus, to the one who deeply knows you, calls you Beloved, and desires for you to have rest.
Get into a position that is most comfortable for you
Begin to breathe slowly
Hold your breath for a few seconds
And then slowly exhale
Recognize that you are breathing in the very breathe of God
Throughout the meditation, continue to breathe slowly
Begin to sense the presence of Jesus in the room with you
For he is always with you.
Imagine that the King of the Universe is beside you
As you focus on his presence, you find that you are able to relax, because he has everything under control
You feel the muscles in your face relax
And the muscles in your neck
You shoulders begin to settle back
Your forearm relaxes
And your feet are holding you centered
You begin to feel Jesus softly rest his hands on top of your head
At his touch you feel relaxed and at peace
However your hands become clenched
Clench your fists
What are you holding onto?
Imagine what you are holding onto
You then hear Jesus speak, “Come to me, all you who are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest”
Think on his words, allowing them to flow through your mind, through your spirit, and through your body.
Think about all that you are holding onto with what Jesus is saying
Allow yourself to fully feel and experience your current weariness
Make yourself deeply aware of the fatigue in your body and how exhausted your mind is
Jesus says “Come to me”
Begin to pry open your hands, it can be one finger at a time or all at once, whatever you need in this moment
Imagine giving what you have been holding onto to Jesus
Give yourself permission to list what has weighed you down
See Jesus receiving all of your burdens and weariness
Hear Jesus say, “Thank you”
Sit in the lightness of having your hands open
Delight in being in the presence of Christ