“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” (Matthew 11:28-30).
These lines from Matthew used to confuse me. I loved the idea of going to Jesus with my burdens (especially during my 20s, when I felt oh-so-weary most of the time) — but what in the world did the Lord mean when He said his yoke was easy?
Following Jesus isn’t easy. I believed then (and still do) that it’s always and forever worth it to be a Christian, even when it’s difficult — but it’s difficult a lot of the time. For some of us, it feels difficult most of the time.
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It’s not easy to love our enemies. It’s not easy to think of others before ourselves. It’s not easy to make financial decisions from a stewardship perspective. It’s not easy to fast, pray, or give alms. It’s not easy to lay down our lives for others. It’s not easy to be faithful to Christ while we’re in high school. Or college. Or living our lives as single young adults. Or as young marrieds. Or struggling with infertility, or raising small children.
Yet all of these things are asked of us, to varying degrees and depending on our circumstances, as Christians. How can Jesus say that His “yoke is easy” and expect us to believe it?
A couple of years ago, a blog post by a former spiritual director of mine, Msgr. Charles Pope, helped me understand Jesus’ words in a new way. He wrote, in part: “Jesus says the cross He has for us is ‘easy.’ The Greek word χρηστὸς (chrestos) is better translated as ‘well-fitting,’ ‘suitable,’ or even ‘useful.’ The Lord is saying that the yoke He has for us is suited to us; it is well-fitting; and it has been carefully chosen to be useful for us. God knows we need some crosses in order to grow and He knows what they are. He also knows what we can bear and what we are ready for. Yes, His yoke for us is well-fitting.”
Mind. Blown. His yoke is well-fitting. It was designed for me — which means that with God’s grace, its weight won’t crush me. His yoke is well-fitting. Only the crosses Jesus asks me to carry will be well-fitted to me.
Those are the crosses I will have the grace to bear and the strength to endure. But so often, I place self-made and poorly fitting yokes on my shoulders and don’t understand why they feel so overwhelming.
For a long time I was convinced my anxiety disorder was my yoke from the Lord, and that I just had to suck it up and endure it. I begged the Lord to free me from it — but at the same time, I was not open to the paths to freedom He put in front of me (e.g. therapy and medication). When I look back on my 20s, all of which I spent under the oppressive yoke of an anxiety disorder, I realize it wasn’t Jesus’ well-fitting yoke that I was carrying. I didn’t have to live this way.
In December 2014, after the worst bout of depression I had experienced, it became clear I needed to let go of my self-made cross and allow the Lord to heal me. A month later, I went to see my doctor, got on an SSRI medicine, and started going to therapy again. It was only when I was freed from this unbearable yoke that I was able to fully embrace the crosses the Lord was actually asking me to carry.
Since getting engaged, married, and pregnant, I’ve been tempted many times to reconstruct the yoke of anxiety and trudge through life carrying it. Granted, I am no longer as prone to give into this temptation, thanks to the emotional and psychological healing I’ve experienced, but it’s still there. My therapist and spiritual director have to remind me (regularly) to only carry the crosses the Lord has asked me to carry, because those are fitted exactly to my spiritual specifications.
The yoke of teaching high school was well-fitted to me, and even on the toughest days (and there were some tough days!), it was bearable because it was from the Lord.
The yoke of sharing myself with my readers and my audience also fits me well, even when it’s difficult to do, because the Lord has asked it of me.
The yoke of marriage to my husband, Kristian, is well-fitted, even though I often feel I don’t deserve him and can’t possibly love him as he ought to be loved, day in and day out, for the rest of our lives. But I can, and by the grace of God I will, because the Lord has asked it of me.
The yoke of motherhood to my baby, which I’m about to experience in a new and radical way, is one that is fitted precisely to me — regardless of how daunting it seems. The Lord designed this yoke for my shoulders, which means He will equip me with what I need to be my baby boy’s mom. After spending several months of my pregnancy agonizing about how inadequate I feel in the face of this new vocation, I was struck anew by this truth. I’ve clung to it ever since.
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It is incredibly freeing to discern between Jesus’ yoke and the ones we’ve made for ourselves (or that Satan has thrust upon us). The yoke the Lord has for each one of us will not lead to misery, despair, or condemnation.
His yoke won’t be pleasant all the time — and may even feel impossible to carry at times — but it is well-fitted to each person, and it is, whether or not we realize it, bringing our weary souls closer to Jesus.
Christina Dehan Jaloway is a freelance writer, speaker, and former high school theology teacher based in Texas. She is an editor at Spoken Bride, a Catholic website for brides and newlyweds, and blogs at The Evangelista.