Our dinners at the beach are far from utilitarian. They have more of a South American spirit to them in that they begin with hors d’ouvres and relaxed visiting, move into a culinary experience with wine (or cleverly named craft beers) with food that has been lovingly and proudly put together by different family members who genuinely enjoy the art of cooking, and go late into the night. We linger over the meal and around the table until well past the hour when our children should already be in bed, but they seem to buy into the experience themselves. With this on my mind while sitting on the beach, listening to the waves, trying to decide whether I should go for a long walk, play in the waves or read a book, I was thinking about what makes vacation so vacation-ful. (: It isn’t just the play and the laziness but it is the conspicuous absence of the toil of daily responsibilities. Even putting dishes away at the beach feels less burdensome than the same task at home.
To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat of it,’ “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. Gen. 3:17
On vacation, tidying up the living room or kitchen, running a few loads of laundry or washing off sandy beach toys just doesn’t seem as cruel and “toilsome” as the similar tasks do at home on a daily basis. I think it speaks to the somewhat mysterious nature of the curse and the life to come when all traces of it will be wiped away. While we still will work, because this was part of the dignity of man and imaging of God before the fall, it will not be wearisome labor.
He named him Noah and said, “He will comfort us in the labor and painful toil of our hands caused by the ground the Lord has cursed.” Genesis 5:29
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 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. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matt. 11:28-30
The “Now but Not Yet” of this redemptive story we find ourselves included in came to mind as I contemplated the person and work of Jesus in regard to my need for vacation and my receipt of His rest: 1) His reversal of the curse as minimally referenced through Noah is available even now as described further in Matthew and 2) while we get tastes of this rest, it is not yet perfectly undisturbed. (will have to be explored in the next post)
Now: The idea of two oxen being strapped together by a “yoke” is clearly outside of my daily experience. But, the idea of strapping into a three legged race may be slightly helpful. If I have to do a mile around a track in a three legged race, I want to strap my leg to a swift runner, with coordination and rhythm, who is as focused on the end goal as I am. To strap my leg to someone who just wanted to stop for refreshments the whole time, quickly distracted, who isn’t all that coordinated, or who is easily winded or nauseated by exercise would make for a really tedious experience. Interestingly, I yoke myself to these kinds of partners, namely my own inconsistent will, all the time instead of Jesus and wonder why I am so worn out and in need of vacation.
Patrick Knaak, in a World Harvest Mission book entitled My Luggage is Not Heavy, wrote about this saying, “The default mode of my sinful heart is to chase after the idols of approval or success, or to insist on doing things my way. And yet, yoking myself to my own willful independence to try harder to do better is the most wearying labor…” For me, the anxiety about approval isn’t as simplistic as “like me, like me”, but means that I want to be found faultless before the most scrutinizing money managers, found perfectly pure in motive by my new neighbors in a not-yet-transitional neighborhood and those watching from a distance, found above reproach in my care and nurture of my children and found nothing but praiseworthy in my ministry and interaction with those around me. But of course, if any of these things were possible, I would have no need for the person and work of Jesus because my righteousness would be sufficient. I need to be yoked to Him because only His financial management is faultless, only His motives are perfectly pure in all things, only His care and nurture of His children is above reproach and only His ministry is life giving at all times.
The Lord Almighty has sworn, “Surely, as I have planned, so it will be, and as I have purposed, so it will stand. I will crush the Assyrian in my land; on my mountains I will trample him down. His yoke will be taken from my people, and his burden removed from their shoulders.” This is the plan determined for the whole world; this is the hand stretched out over all nations. Is. 14: 24-26
My daily labors at home, while absent of rolling waves and leisurely nightly dinners, might not have to carry with them the toilsome nature that I have felt more intensely at certain points. Perhaps the toil comes when I attach to these tasks demands that Jesus has not given. Jesus hasn’t asked that I clean my house for others to think me an exceptional house keeper, but simply to be able to find my stuff and enjoy the space more. He has asked me to love on my children and train them in the refreshment, necessity and wonder of the Gospel, not create Stepford children who perform for the arbitrary and every changing standards of others. I want to manage my manna in Tupperware, trusting in my ample extra as a mark of superior stewardship – and I feel my jaws and insides clench even as I type that – cue the heavy burden and scowling willful independence. Instead, God provides the exact resources for the very things He has called us to, and what He doesn’t provide I can trust we don’t need as I may assume. Jesus asks me to wash the feet of others, to go, serve and love “the least of these” of whom I am one. He frees me from both enslavement to their approval of my motives and from fear of disappointing others, because I rest in His righteousness alone.
Be at rest once more, O my soul, for the LORD has been good to you. Psalm 116:7