There is a large icon of Jesus Christ in the narthex of my parish. He is enthroned and holding an open book that reads “Come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest.” Many times when I walk into the Narthex and grab a candle, and kiss the icon of the Mother of God, my eyes don’t even pause to look up at that icon of Jesus. I am very often so weary and so heavy laden and so harried that I don’t even notice it.
I just grab my candle, make my cross, bow, say a quick prayer, kiss the small kissing icon of Mary holding baby Jesus that is next to the candles, and make my way in. I am too busy coming in and sort of congratulating myself for being there, that I don’t actually come in and be there with my whole being.
But it would behoove me to stop, to pause, to look up. It would behoove me to be more intentional about coming to Him. I ought to come to Him. Oh great, I think to myself …another thing I am doing wrong.
Often it seems that by the time I am getting to Church, I am just so so utterly weary. Maybe it’s because of the big things in life. I am weary of grieving. I am weary of not getting my own way. I am weary of caregiving for other people. I am weary of my young people with autism still NEEDING me so much, at the ages they are. I am weary of being lonely. I am weary of parenting people as a single parent, who are at an age when society no longer acknowledges the work of parenting that still happens. I am weary of being invisible and in a largely invisible role as my daughter’s caregiver, when people from time to time ask me “What do you do? Where do you work?,” as if what I do is not enough. I am weary of chronic pain and fatigue that weaves its way through the warp and weft of my life, showing up in greater and lesser amounts from time to time, requiring me to be ever vigilant with every tiny detail of my lifestyle choices. I am weary of not sleeping well. I am weary of myself. And I am weary of being weary.
I bring my weary self to Church, and I bring all these burdens that I am carrying…and I forget to actually come to Jesus who gives rest. I forget to lay those burdens down at Jesus’ feet and just stand there and say “Lord, I can’t.” I wrap myself in my own wandering thoughts and although physically present, I forget to come and be there.
And yet, that is exactly what He is inviting me to do. “Come to me…and I will give you rest.”
How can I come to Jesus and allow him to give me rest? How do I find Him? How do I even seek Him? How do I cultivate that love for Him and a longing for Him and an abiding in His presence?
I mean, I know all the correct Sunday School answers to these questions: Spend time in prayer, read or listen to the Scriptures on a regular basis, participate in the fasts as much as your health allows (or, in the manner your health allows), participate in the sacramental life of the Church, say the Jesus Prayer, slow down and be silent.
I think that how to cultivate the presence of Jesus, beyond those tried and true basics, is a question that each of us can only answer for ourselves. Yes, we need to be doing all those things. We need to be obedient, as much as we can, to the Lord. I know for my own part, just the basics is a struggle. Just the basics of the Christian life seems like a long to-do list on y bad days. I lean in to it. I do. At least, that is my intention, though I often fall short.
Return, O my soul, to your rest; for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you.–Psalm 116:7 .
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 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. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.— Matthew 11:28-30
And so I think about the burden I am carrying and the rest I so desperately long for. It is more than just the challenges of life as a special needs mom, as a long term caregiver…those things are just daily…that are the source of stress. It is different from the very real physical fatigue that life brings. It is even something other than grief, although believe me, that is one thing I have to lay down at Jesus’ feet on a daily basis lest it grow too big to carry..( I cry a lot when I pray).
But when I ponder what my biggest burden is…and the reason I am telling you my secret now, is because I suspect it might be your biggest burden, too…I think that it is that evil voice inside my head that tells me I am not good enough. The one that tells me I am wrong for even existing. The one that shames me. The weary and heavy load is shame. I don’t know when, where or how it sprang into being, but somewhere along the way most of us pick up that burden. It is very very heavy indeed. And when every voice in society does not acknowledge the invisible work that I am doing, and seems to be yelling at me to “do something be something have goals meet those goals, work!”…when all along I am doing something, something very important-keeping another human being alive and safe and nurtured and growing- that shame voice seems to grow louder. At least it does for me. And when I mingle the work of being a caregiver with the burden of false shame, that the load of caregiving long term gets too heavy.
And the healing process is so simple and yet so hard. Jesus, heal my soul. Jesus, help me to be your handmaiden, as you created me just as you want me to be. Yes, Jesus. I am yours.. Jesus, heal my soul. “Let it be done unto me according to my will.” I can choose to choose the life that I did not directly choose.
And God does heal. Somewhere in the darkness of that whispered soul prayer I am finding healing. I am finding light. I am finding Jesus Himself who is allowing me to sit at his feet, and who is also allowing me to serve him busily. I am finding Jesus who also wept. I am finding Jesus who was weary. And I am finding Jesus who hung out at lakes and rivers quite a bit. And Jesus who broke bread. And Jesus who says “come unto me” who then Himself comes unto US in order to heal us.
And I find that, after all…slowing down and looking up at Him might just be the best rest for this weariness.