After the last post about the light yoke of Jesus, I’ve been thinking about why we resist the yoke of Christ.
My assertion is that when we are overly burdened, especially for a long duration of time, we are not putting on the the yoke of Christ, but rather a yoke of the world’s making – whether our own or from others. We’re doing things we were not meant to do. That means we either are doing more than Jesus has asked us to do, or simply that the things we’re trying to do are not what he has called us and made us to do, and so they feel overwhelming.
Here’s the passage again:
Matthew 11:28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 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. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
There may be many reasons that we resist the yoke – the call – of Christ in our lives to instead take up work that was not meant for us. I have three reasons in mind, but I welcome any other thoughts on why we so easily take on burdens that are too heavy for us to lift and, in the end, will lead us to irritability, resentment, and finally burnout.
One point worth mentioning before we tackle our resistance to carrying only the yoke of Christ is that sometimes it isn’t our tasks that overwhelm us, but rather the burdens of life that bring sadness, hurt, loneliness, and anxiety. I’ll come back to these causes in a separate post.
Yes, I know what you’re thinking. You’re a hard worker. The problem is you work too much. How can it be that the people working too hard are lazy? This happens in two distinct ways, and both lead us to resist the yoke of Christ.
1. Not putting in the right amount of effort now results in more work for yourself later.
C.S. Lewis, in Mere Christianity, speaks of the a school boy who is lazy in learning his geometry. He works just hard enough to memorize the formulas to solve the problems in front of him, but does not take the extra effort to understand why they are true and how they work. That boy will, come test time, be in need of hours of boring study to remember and be ready for the many types of problems he will face on the exam. In contrast, the girl who took the time during the semester to understand all the equations will find joy in the preparation, and it will be done quickly.
How many of us find ourselves over-busy because we resist the work needed on the front end to plan, organize, and systematize our tasks? We fail to create structure around what we’re doing. This structure can look like the utilization of a planner for our schedule and tasks. It may take the shape of a planning board to tease out the distinct elements of a project that are necessary for its completion. Alternatively, it may be the failure to identify who else can help us to complete the work placed in our care. Of course, there are certainly other ways we take the easy road on the front end that creates more work for us on the back end, but I think we can see the dynamic at play here.
2. Not doing the work of choosing puts us at he mercy of other’s choices.
Eugene Peterson, in his book The Contemplative Pastor, takes this basic idea of Lewis and applies it in another way. He says,
“Only lazy people work hard. By lazily abdicating the essential work of deciding and directing, establishing values and setting goals, other people do it for us; then we find ourselves frantically, at the last minute, trying to satisfy a half dozen demands on our time, none of which is essential to our vocation [calling], to stave off the disaster of disappointing someone.”
When we’re too “lazy” to insist on only doing what we’re called to do, we let other people decide what we will do, and end up like the poor soul in James 1:6 who is “like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed about by the wind” (although, admittedly for different reasons). That’s no way to live. Not only are we not doing what we think we should do, we’re definitely not doing what Jesus has called and told us to do. One way to combat this is, each morning and between each of your tasks, to pause to ask the Lord, “What do you want me to do next?” Then wait for an impression, image, word, or other direction. God is intimately involved in your life, your work, and your tasks. He cares deeply about you and what you need to accomplish, since it is all for his glory anyway (Colossians 3:23-24, I Corinthians 10:31).
This lack of intentionality and self-direction leads us to our second reason for resisting the yoke of Christ.
Codependency is that condition where a person is conditioned to believe that they need to allow another person or group control over their lives to some degree, often by allowing inappropriate (often addictive) behaviors by that person or group. A stark example is a wife who enables her husband’s alcoholism by covering for him, explaining away his failures, and continuing to work beyond her capacity to continue the situation that allows him to drink. A more subtle version is the person who always needs to please those around him by saying “yes” to everything and everyone out of the fear of disappointing others, whether they be a loved one, a co-worker, or some other group.
It’s easy to see how fear can trap someone in this type of living. We fear that we’ll let people down, and so we fear that they won’t like us. We’ve (consciously or subconsciously) been led to believe that when the Bible tells us to put others first, it means we have to let them control us. Therefore, we fear that God will be upset with us and withhold his love.
This codependency is a trap. It keeps us always in the position of need, lack, and anxiety. We cannot ask for help, because that would require us to acknowledge that we’re doing more than we should; this is an admission of codependency. And the one thing codependency doesn’t want us to do is to believe that we shouldn’t remain codependent.
There is a certain addictive quality to believing you have to take care of others, even when it allows them to do harmful things to themselves of others (including you). While you’re helping them, you feel like a hero. You feel like a savior. You feel like God…until you don’t. Up to the point you burn out, you can view yourself as a great person who loves sacrificially. Until it wrecks you, it builds up your self-image.
The only cure for this codependency is saying “no,” setting boundaries, and refusing to continue in the toxic (version of the) relationship. This is, of course, easier said than done. That’s why people go to counselors, attend ACA meetings, and read books about boundaries. But saying no is a necessary part of living, and crucial to bearing the yoke of Christ.
Jesus was always saying no. He was always disappointing people. He didn’t always go where they wanted him to go (John 7:1-8). He didn’t act as they wanted him to act (Mark 3:20-35; John 6:15). He didn’t die the way they wanted him to die (Matthew 16:21-23). Jesus knew what he was about, knew what his purpose (calling) was, and said no to anything that differed from what he was meant to do.
Codependency robs us of that same ability. And this leads us to my final reason that we resist the yoke of Christ.
There are two kinds of shame, and I’m only talking about one of them here. Healthy shame is deserved and helps us remember our need for Christ. Toxic shame is undeserved and teaches us to despise ourselves and believe that others despise us, too.
Toxic shame plays out in two distinct ways to keep us from bearing the proper and easy yoke of Christ.
1. We don’t want to say no to others because we’re afraid we’ll be deemed undeserving or unlovable in their eyes.
We’re often so bound by our fear of feeling shame that we can’t bear to let others down. Apart from being the hero in our own eyes, we might be caught in a cycle of doing too much so that people will like us, hold us in esteem, or even honor us with a raise or promotion.
How many employees answer emails at midnight or take calls on the weekend from their boss because they don’t want to look like they aren’t a team player or hard worker, even if they are. It could be a well-founded fear. Maybe your boss is a bad boss, and would truly judge you on the basis this “failure.” Maybe codependency and fear are keeping you in a job you should get out of as quickly as possible.
But often, its the fear of feeling shame more than a real likelihood of getting fired that compels us to work beyond our healthy capacity. Because we don’t have an internal sense of our own worth, we seek it in others. The problem is that those “others” not only are likely just as unsure of their own worth and therefore cannot value others properly, but even if they could properly value you it wouldn’t be enough to assuage your fears of your own lack of worth. You won’t believe them because of your shame. You keep pushing, but never receive the relief that you seek.
2. We seek achievement to justify our existence.
Much like the first one, but with an eye inward, some of us are striving beyond healthy capacity in order to show ourselves that we are worth something. We’re battling those inner thoughts of inadequacy and worthlessness. We think, “If I can win this position (whether little league shortstop or CEO or anything in between) I can prove to the world and myself that I’m valuable!” But again, it won’t work.
The first problem is that we’re often trying to prove this to a voice in our head that offers no clear measurement of success by which to validate ourselves. Unfortunately, that voice is often a parent, a loved one, or a church tradition that communicated to us that we are not enough and that nothing we do could ever change that. We learned that perfection, or something eerily akin to perfection, was required to receive love. But it was nebulous and always out of reach. Therein lies the power of toxic shame.
Another problem is that love was never meant to be the consequence of achievement, anyway. Love is freely given and received. So if you do achieve something great and receive accolades and adulation, you know it isn’t true acceptance and love. It cannot be, because you have earned it. You caught in a Catch-22 where the very thing you seek, once attained, proves that you haven’t found it. Real love cannot be bought.
And so you stay in your toxic shame. The people around you often don’t know how to value you properly, and if they did you wouldn’t believe them. The things you do to try to prove your worth (justify your existence), only prove the opposite.
Of course, Jesus can properly value you. And he did. He (and the Father) determined that you were worth the very life of God. He died in your stead. He justified you. But many times, simply knowing that doesn’t do enough to overcome the years of voices and patterns of thinking that tell you the opposite.
This post is not meant to resolve any of the three ways we resist the yoke of Christ. It is only meant to unearth them and put them on display so that we can see the impact of these types of resistance in our lives. And, again, maybe there are more ways we resist (put your comments below). But knowing is the first step. At least it was for me. I’m still in the battle, but now I know what battle I’m fighting. What about you? Which battle are you fighting?
I’ll keep writing on this topic, but please add any comments or questions below about what you’ve read or what you’d like to read going forward about the yoke of Christ, laziness, codependency, or shame.