Verses that we read, such as: “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest” (Mt 11:28) really hit the spot, they arrive at the right time. I am sure that if you are reading these words you may also welcome Jesus’ invitation. Yet what is the labor and burden that we need to rest from? If you are like me who work in education, or a student, as the final weeks of the semester come to a close, there are exams to correct and to take. Of course, those at the university level may have just finished and are feeling the relief of arriving home to embrace the rest. Others in other occupations also work long hours, and sometimes, two or three jobs, just to get by. How about overseeing the care of the home and dealing with family issues that can be enormous, especially at this time of year?
Is the burden, the weight of all that has to be done to prepare for Christmas, the decorating, putting up lights, shopping, buying presents, cooking, baking, writing and mailing Christmas cards crushing you under the weight?
Unfortunately, there are way too many who are not so much burdened by work but the lack of access to gainful or meaningful employment. They are burdened with keeping the bills paid and a roof over their heads as the temperatures fall. Some have no home or family, they are burdened with getting from day to day, seeking ways to get food, clean clothes, a place to wash and relieve themselves. Christmas cards are a distant thought. Many others are burdened and living in fear that they or their family member or members may be deported.
Speaking of fear, how many of us are burdened by fear, anxiety, stress, and strain from a myriad of swirling reasons? Concerns about our family, community, country, and the world are a burden that can weigh heavily. Advent and Christmas, even when life is more stable, are still times in which many buttons are pressed and many stressors are triggered. What is the adage that is offered when family and friends gather? Resist talking about politics, religion, and… we all can add a few others.
If you are feeling weary and worn this Advent Season, take some time to just stop and take a slow, deliberate breath. Notice your shoulders coming out of your ears. Embrace the invitation of Jesus and rest in him. Allow the burdens to come to mind, then visualize yourself giving them to Jesus, open yourself to his guidance, ask to be open to help, and seek who may be best able to assist you in any particular situation. If you are burdened by any sins, rest in Jesus and confess to him, avail yourself of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Jesus will forgive you and bring you a lightness and fresh start!
Our God “does not faint or grow weary, and his knowledge is beyond scrutiny. He gives strength to the fainting; for the weak he makes vigor abound” (Isaiah 40:28-29). We do not have to deal with anything alone. We have help and support. My friend, Pastor Jerry Scott, taught me years ago a life lesson which I still return to, more often in my fifties than in my twenties. When a person is chopping down a tree, exerting a lot of energy and effort, but finding the results insufficient, he or she needs to realize that they need to step back, take a breath, and sharpen their ax. With a little rest, renewal, and a sharpened blade, the job can be accomplished in half the time.
We need to figuratively do the same daily with each of our endeavors. We need to resist just putting our head down and plowing through with blinders on. We need to instead take some time to stop and assess from time to time what we need, where we need help, how are we truly fulfilled, and yoke ourselves to Jesus for his guidance and strength. As Jesus carries the burden with us, as we follow his will, we can work smarter instead of harder. In developing a pattern and place of trust and hope in him, seeking his guidance and direction this Advent, we will renew our strength and soar as with eagle’s wings; we will run and not grow weary, we walk and not grow faint (cf. Isaiah 40:31)!
Photo: My ax, which you can see is in some desperate need of sharpening!