Thursday, March 31, 2022

Absolute Rest for Your 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 words follow a prayer in which Jesus praises His Father for revealing the secret things of God not to the wise, or accomplished, but as to children, meek and unspoiled. This wasn’t meant to exclude anyone. Assuring the hope of the Gospel for everyone, Jesus begins His invitation with the most inclusive words: “Come to me, all…”

The great proclamation of rest and release is one that most believers have memorized and clung to with deep hope. It is the exhale, the sigh of relief, the respite from strife. So easily applied to our own daily struggles, the words give us permission to take a timeout. No matter the nature of it, work is hard. It weighs us down, whether physically or mentally. We all need a minute or two to rest our weary bones, to cease from the struggle. We can’t hold up under the pressure of what we’ve brought on ourselves, and we need God to give us a break.

Wait. Is that what Jesus said? Maybe, right now, that’s what you need to hear, and that’s okay. But it’s much, much more. It’s so grand and glorious that we have to step back and view it from a broader plain. Its promise is rich and eternal, and we can’t process it as simply a way to get through our current insufferable predicament. Its message carries us beyond the physical and mental, to the spiritual. We must, to find absolute rest, believe the instruction completely and apply it comprehensively. 

The first people to hear the bidding to come and rest were steeped in the tradition of God’s covenant with Israel. Imagine their burden. All they knew was the to follow the law. All of it. Every degree that to us seems to demand the impossible. It was, for the children of Israel, a heavy burden, too great to bear. But then this Teacher, or Prophet, or Son of the Living God— if He was to be believed—came with something new. Something unheard of. In essence, Jesus told His listeners to stop struggling. No need to keep trying to work it out. He was about to take care of it once and for all.

Did those who heard this news understand the fullness of the repose that was about to be given to them? It was a gift, not to be earned, requiring nothing except to come and rest.

Now, perhaps we have forgotten what those souls of Israel once knew. We can’t truly grasp what it was like to live under the burden of the law. But we do know that the law points us to Christ. We know the cross and the empty tomb. We know redemption. We have a Savior. And we can rest in Him.

Can we ask God for rest from what this world bombards us with day to day? Of course. But it’s not everything. In comparison, it’s really not anything, for this world will soon pass away. It is the burden of sin that’s too heavy, the yoke of the law that’s impossible for us to bear on our own. But the way of Jesus is light. His yoke on us is that we simply believe. His heart toward us is gentle. He rescued us by becoming a humble servant. That’s where we find rest for our souls, our eternally free, unchained souls. If we don’t have to work for it, what reason could there be not to rest in it? The yoke and the burden are no longer ours. They are His. Praise God and breathe that long awaited sigh of relief.


Friday, December 17, 2021

The Lonely Santa's Accidental Promise


In July Frank stopped trimming his beard. By the time the giant tree went up at the mall, the proud white puff covered his chin and spread appropriately over the top of his velvety red coat. Despite his amazing morph into the jolly old elf, he worried kids from the neighborhood would know it was him. He couldn’t hide the rattle in his voice. Or the involuntary blink of his left eye. On day one of his part-time Santa job, a mom yanked her daughter off his lap and called him a creep.

“What’s wrong with you?” she yelled. “Stop winking at my little girl.”
The twenty-something photographer laughed. A couple of moms near the front of the line grabbed their tots and retreated from the Christmas village to the safety of the food court. Frank opened his eyes wide, but the blinking continued. So he shut the left eye for the rest of his shift. Three hours and he didn’t open that eye. His cheek made up for the need to blink by twitching every few seconds. But this seemed less disturbing to young moms. Or maybe they didn’t notice at all.
On day two a member of the neighborhood gang showed up. The short kid from across the street. He must have been about five. A Santa cap hung at an angle on his head. Frank had shooed the little petunia crusher from his yard more than once. Now here he was climbing onto Santa’s lap expecting to be forgiven for the Spring of Deflowering.
“What do you want for Christmas, little boy?”
“I want one of those tractors that really goes,” the kid said. “You know, with the big tires.”
Great. “What do you plan to do with a tractor?”
“You talk funny. Like that man with the pretty flowers in his yard.”
“Flowers, huh? I bet he works really hard to get those flowers to grow so pretty.”
“Nah, he just sticks them in the ground and waters them. But if I had a tractor I could help him.”
Old St. Nick’s left eye blinked. “Well, maybe you should just keep your tractor in your own yard.”
The boy’s eyes grew wide and a smile lit his face. “Thanks, Santa!”
“For what?”
“I’ll keep it in my own yard if that’s what you want. Thanks for getting me one.”
The kid jumped down and ran to his mother. Frank had seen her only a few times. Never saw a man across the street. Not once. The young woman smiled. Until the kid started bouncing.                                                                                          

“Santa said I’m getting a tractor just like I wanted!”

Mom caught Santa’s stare, drew her brows tight, and shook her head.

Frank’s left eye blinked, and the young woman opened her eyes wide and hurried away, dragging the boy by the hand.
Santa spent the rest of his shift trying hard not to mislead children. Especially the ones who might figure it was him in the red suit. But no other familiar little runts climbed up on his knee that day.
Or for the rest of the week, for that matter. Except for the curly-haired princess who lived at the end of the block. She was too little to cause any problems. But give her a couple of years. Seemed her parents recognized Frank because the man gave him a knowing smile and the woman waved. They looked like nice folks.
After a couple of weeks of repetitious replies and worn knees, Frank got a paycheck. A little bonus to his fixed income. Money to get him through the winter. When his shift ended, he went to the company office at the end of the food court and changed his clothes. The next Santa on duty nodded a cheerful greeting as he strolled out to the Christmas village. And Frank headed home.
The kids hadn’t been too bad. In fact, he liked the conversation. It’d been a long time since he'd talked so much to so many people. And life, for now, didn’t seem so lonely. But the accidental promise he’d implied to the little boy across the street weighed on him. He’d watched out his window when the boy’s mother counted the change in her purse before climbing into her old car. No decorations had gone up on her house.
On the drive home, he passed the big toy store. One of the few remaining stores like it, Frank had heard. Online shopping was the way to go. But not for Frank, or a few others, it seemed, because the parking lot was packed. Frank hadn’t been in a toy store since he was a boy. And back then, a toy store didn’t fill eight thousand square feet. Must be a very different kind of place now. He turned at the light and found a space near the road. Before he reached the entrance, a kid pulled on his coat.
“Hey, aren’t you Santa? What are you doing at the toy store? Don’t you have some elves making stuff for you?”
“Uh, no, I’m not Santa.” His left eye blinked.
The little girl smiled. And winked back at him.
He hurried into the store, gave up on finding what he was looking for, and asked a uniformed, gum-smacking teen for help.
“In the back against the wall past the bikes and before the motorized cars,” the boy told him.
Frank headed left, passing trains and dolls and a lot of other stuff he didn’t recognize as being like any toy he’d ever known as a child. And there on the back wall he found them. The battery operated, fully detailed, big-wheeled tractors capable of flattening every plant in his yard. He checked the price. Two week’s pay in the pocket of a part-time Santa would cover it. With enough left over for wrapping paper and a bow. Frank smiled. And for the first time in many years, he whistled a Christmas tune.

Merry Christmas