Matthew 11:28-30 (the message)
“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.”
Earlier this morning, after my husband left for work and before my girls woke up, I sat down at my kitchen table with my morning cup of coffee. And I just kind of sat there. Wanting to pray. Needing to. Looking out at the blooming dogwood in my backyard, I started to talk. But then I just put my head down on the table and as I did so I thought of myself and so many people in my life…those I know quite well and some I am getting to know better. I thought of how we are all really in the same boat if we will be real about it. We all have issues. We all have a past. We all want to be loved. I thought about the thick cloud we perceive our efforts and prayers must pierce to reach the Heavens. And then I thought about the scripture above…
Grace. Every so often it becomes the message pounding in my heart…pulsing through my days…weaving in and out of my writing. Often I attempt to convey what grace means to me or how it has changed me to others because I know how it feels to try and try and try again. To do Christianity the way I was taught…to give my physical, emotional and mental energy to becoming better or more spiritual all the while proving my failure to produce lasting results. Ah, yes. That’s it. Producing. What will the “right” way of praying produce? The “right” amount of giving? What will the “right” level of church attendance and volunteering and bumper stickering produce? No doubt, praying, trusting, giving, attending and sharing are vital. Somewhere along the edges of my soul I catch hold of this thought…my praying, trusting, giving, volunteering and attending are not the producers. They are supposed to be the by-products of encountering Grace. They are a response to Jesus. Not meant to be the currency with which we buy acceptance with God or exchange for answers to prayer. Sigh…a lot to digest!
Some days, like this rainy spring morning, as I am shuffling little girls to school and preschool and informing them quite sternly of expected behaviors taking the form of good manners and first-time obedience, I realize the throbbing pulse of this grace message is for me again and again and again. I drive home from preschool, already knowing I am to write about grace again today, but with a heavy heart because I myself struggle with breaking this deeply ingrained habit and incessant need to push and prod and come down on my children. See, it’s not always about yelling and screaming (though that happens sometimes), it’s about pressure. Pressure to perform…to produce. Of course as parents my husband and I are charged with the responsibility of raising our children, training and shaping them. This most certainly involves manners, respect and obedience. But I understand this pressure to perform and I know it may produce outward results for a season, or even a lifetime, but many a striver lives with the weight of the world hinging on the success or failure of all they attempt to be. As I bring my baby inside from the rain I ask Him: How? How do I do it differently? You have to help me! This is so deeply woven into my personality it will take a miracle, something only You can do, to change it…
He gently reminds me to consider how He trains me, shapes and builds me up. He does not condemn me. He does not speak words to me that insinuate I am not good enough. Jesus shows me what I need to see and so often shows me why it matters. I’ve learned He really, really does love me unconditionally. And so I trust that even when it’s all bad He’s still all good. Jesus does not press down on me with pressure to produce better results. Jesus overwhelms me with love and this grace that draws me to surrender like a moth to a flame. Oh, Jesus lets me walk out the consequences that accompany my choices. He disciplines me at times. But His love makes it safe for me. His grace can transform my internal pressure to produce into freedom to respond.
Unforced rhythms of grace…countless times now these words have leapt off the page at me. We are meant to live in a sort of rhythm with God. He moves and draws and woos and invites and we respond…we grow and change and know joy and peace…He moves and draws and woos and invites and we respond…we grow and change and know joy and peace…and on and on. This is Jesus Himself speaking! Telling us to get away with Him..He will show us how to take a real rest…Walk with me and work with Me, He says, Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly. Doesn’t that sound so good this morning? Living freely and lightly…laying down our burden to produce and perform. Here, even as you read this post, is your invitation from Jesus — Come away with Me.
I promise I re-read these posts before publishing them. I try to take out the superfluous stuff. I know they can be long! Today I sense the heaviness, in my own life and in those around me, that comes from the burden to produce results. So much of what we have experienced of people and church and life in general is an earning mentality. It is true that Jesus said to His followers, If you love Me you would do what I say. I am in no way watering down obedience. I have had that very scripture challenge me many times and help me choose to obey Him. But even in those moments I am responding! Responding to His voice in my life, His desire to bless me and grow me and heal me…His promise to fill me and change me and be the producer of all that is good and lovely and beautiful in my life.
Unforced. A Rhythm. Jesus The Producer and me, an ordinary girl, learning to respond. Learning my obedience is in my responding.
“The Spirit can make life. Sheer muscle and willpower don’t make anything happen. Every word I’ve spoken to you is a Spirit-word, and so it is life-making. But some of you are resisting, refusing to have any part in this.” (Jesus knew from the start that some weren’t going to risk themselves with him. He knew also who would betray him.) He went on to say, “This is why I told you earlier that no one is capable of coming to me on his own. You get to me only as a gift from the Father.” (John 6:63-65, the message.)