The weary soul

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

These verses have been following me for about a year and a half now. I come across them so much that I’ve actually started an iPhoto album to keep track of all their unexpected appearances. However, over these past few weeks, I’ve been really struggling to understand it…and to believe it. Despite how often I’ve seen these words, it seemed too esoteric a command. If “coming to Him” just meant “pray”, then all this felt like a lie. For so long, my soul was not at rest…and it wasn’t for lack of praying. All I desired was rest and relief from my arid and weak spirituality and for weeks, it just…wasn’t happening.

When I started writing this article, I was just beginning to realize how disobedient, imprudent, and spiritually lukewarm I had been with my Lord…this is how I began: 

I know He is so close, eagerly waiting for me, and yet I feel too unworthy and too defeated. How can I know that I won’t squirm out of His embrace and repeat this cycle yet again? Is it even worth going back? Come to Him, so I can stare all my sin in the face? Come to Him, so I can have an even lower view of myself than I do now? Come to Him, and offer up all my attachments and routines that I don’t want to change? The burden of being such a pathetic and repetitive sinner makes me shrink from the light of His face, and doubt Jesus’s promise of sanctification altogether—why haven’t I been healed from these habits and weaknesses yet? And if my faith is so feeble in the face of my sin, did I ever believe at all?

In my stubborn spiritual rut, I turned to some Bible commentaries, and found many sermons highlighting the promised rest of Jesus in this passage to be a fruit of repentance; sin is often at the root of much of our weariness, dryness, and burden. An excerpt from a letter by St. Basil of Caesarea (333–379 AD) particularly moved me:

We can escape now. While we can, let us lift ourselves from the fall: let us never despair of ourselves, if only we depart from evil. Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners. “O come, let us worship and fall down; let us weep before Him.” The Word Who invited us to repentance calls aloud, “Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” There is, then, a way of salvation, if we will. “Death in his might has swallowed up, but again the Lord hath wiped away tears from off all faces” of them that repent.

The great Physician of souls, Who is the ready liberator, not of you alone, but of all who are enslaved by sin, is ready to heal your sickness. From Him come the words, it was His sweet and saving lips that said, “They that be whole need not a physician but they that are sick.…I am not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” What excuse have you, what excuse has any one, when He speaks thus?

If you give yourself to Him He will not hold back. He, in His love, will not disdain even to carry you on His own shoulders, rejoicing that He has found His sheep which was lost. The Father stands and awaits your return from your wandering. Only come back, and while you are yet afar off, He will run and fall upon your neck, and, now that you are cleansed by repentance, will enwrap you in embraces of love. [1]

This exhortation was exactly what I needed. Pride had blinded me to the most obvious element of my relationship with Jesus Christ: I am a perpetual sinner, and He is my perpetual Savior. When you go down a spiral of prioritizing your own desires, even seemingly minor things like slothful TV binge-watching trumping prayer and stewardship, you start ebbing away at your will—the very will that we are cautioned to strengthen, that we may increase in fortitude and resist sin (James 1:2, Galatians 5:1). You do not need jaw-dropping, grave acts of disobedience on your record to stray greatly from the Lord. Once you have intentionally defied the Lord in the slightest, you have advertised to the whole world and to your very heart that there is an opening for other authorities to rule your life…and then the tug of war starts.

So what does coming to Jesus look like? It definitely includes prayer. But even with the most dedication and consistency, prayer may not draw you nearer to Jesus at all if you are not aware of your sin and desperate need for His forgiveness and grace. Jesus exalts the prayer of a sinful tax-collector over the religious leader in Luke 18:9-14 for precisely this reason. The tax-collector’s cry, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” was not only more pleasing to Jesus, but our Lord said it actually justified him; his repentance contributed to his reconciliation to God (verse 14). This is also echoed in the Old testament: “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Psalm 51:17); God dwells “with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite” (Isaiah 57:15).

How fitting that this is the very language with which Jesus describes Himself, “I am gentle and lowly in heart”– He draws us, and transforms us to His likeness (Matthew 11:30). There is no fear in approaching Jesus. In His perfection and holiness, He humbled Himself down to a dot of flesh in the womb of a teenager so that you would know just how much He loves you. There is no depth too low, scar too deep, or sin too disgusting, for Him to come down to you, revive you, and dwell with you. If you’re in a dry spell like I was, or if you’re plagued with doubt in yourself and in Jesus, please, do not let your pride dissuade you from asking God to show you your sin and bring you to repentance. I finally sat today in the chapel, and still unsure if dishonor to Jesus was the root of my burdens, I began to list things I’ve been doing that have driven a wedge in my friendship with Christ. The very simple but earnest apology that followed had such a profound effect of restoration on me…the desire for lesser loves is finally waning, and a long-awaited rest is finally comforting my wearied soul.

Confessions are not only acknowledgements, but resolutions to love Him better. We’ll keep screwing up, and He knows that. All He desires is that you would confidently entrust yourself to His mercy, and never cease to return when you’ve walked away. I challenge you all to set a timer– take at least 10 mins of strict silence and let it all out, meditating on His precious invitation: “Come to me.”

We have been trained in the habit of looking at our dark side, our ugliness, and not at the purifying Sun, Light of Light, which He is, who changes the dust that we are into pure gold. We think about examining ourselves, yet we do not think, before the examination, during the examination, and after the examination, to plunge ourselves, with all our miseries, into the consuming and transforming furnace of His Heart, which is open to us through a humble act of confidence. I am not telling you, ‘You believe too much in your own wretchedness.’ We are much more wretched than we ever realize. But I am telling you, ‘You do not believe enough in merciful love.’

—Cynthia Kerr’s blog, “St. Therese’s Little Way” [2]

“All grace flows from mercy … even if a person’s sins were as dark as night, God’s mercy is stronger than our misery. One thing alone is necessary: that the sinner set ajar the door of his heart, be it ever so little, to let in a ray of God’s merciful grace, and then God will do the rest.”

St. Maria Faustina Kowalska [3]

[1] Basil of Caesarea. “Letter 46.” From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol. 8.
[2] Kerr, Cynthia. “Chapter Two – Humble Confidence.” In St. Therese’s Little Way (2009).
[3] Kowalska, Faustina. “Entry 1507.” In Diary of St. Faustina (Marian Press, 1981).

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