If there is one thing that is deeply embedded in the American psyche it is this: I alone am responsible for my life. I have to make it happen—whatever the “it” is. I am on my own in this thing called life. Even within the context of family and partnerships we can feel totally alone in carrying our burdens. From the beginning it was “Go west, young man, and make your fortune.” We should all be pulling ourselves up “by the bootstraps.” We can hear echoes of this today in the mistrust of government programs to help people—they should be doing it for themselves.
When we enter into the Life of the Spirit, when we turn our lives over to God, the message is actually the opposite: give your burdens over to God, let him help you, let him lead and plan the direction of your life, let him do the heavy lifting so that you can be free of the burden of your obligations, so that you can be free to be who God created you to be. Let God do the heavy lifting.
Remember what Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest…For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”[Matthew 11:28-30; Italics added} Are you weary? Tired of shouldering the whole load? Does your soul long for this ease and lightness? Do you want to lay your burdens down?
This is what Jesus promises us. The yoke we take on in surrendering our lives to Christ is light and easy, because he is shouldering the bulk of the load, so that we can feel free to do our part. Together with Christ we are working towards expressing our own purpose in this life. Together we are co-creating our life in him. Together. We are never alone again.
Sometimes giving up our burdens to God seems way too easy. Or it might be that if we’re not punishing ourselves with burdens and cares, we think we aren’t even trying. Often how we were raised gets in our way of imagining a life with God leading us, taking over our burdens.
Echoing the Parable of the Prodigal Son God wants us home with him; she throws us a great welcome party. The errant son had squandered his inheritance on frivolous things, become a slave to others. He came home wishing only to be a servant in his father’s house. But what happened? He was welcomed home into his rightful place, reinstated as heir to his father’s fortune. He was looking for punishment, debasement, but what he got was love.
In our own perverse way we are more comfortable with punishment and suffering—even as we push it away or resent it—than with love and welcome. The little child in us survives into adulthood and looks for what he thinks he deserves, what happened when he was a child and couldn’t consistently follow the rules. That child within still expects what he received as a child, but God is not in any way living up to our expectations here. He is upending the common wisdom, changing the cultural and the child’s formula of what should happen.
Our God is not a punishing God. The welcome comes when we turn back to him. Until then there is “punishment” in our distancing ourselves from God in fear of his anger, alienation in feeling totally on our own, abandonment in turning our backs on the One who could actually help. We create our own punishment while God is waiting to gift us with his love.
When we turn back to him, do a 180 and give up our separatist, alienating ways, there is our welcome, the love that has been waiting to grace us. God is always there. Always waiting to welcome us. God is unchanging in seeing us with love. God is not a bigger version of our own fathers and mothers.
We are the ones who are unloving to and unforgiving of ourselves. We cling to our misery until the day that, like the prodigal son in the parable, we decide that being a servant in our Father’s house is better than being a slave to someone else, most of all to our own ego, our own small self. We expect what we project onto God,–judgment and punishment, but God surprises us always with love, forgiveness, gifts and more.
The difference comes from turning towards God and giving up our alienating, negative, unloving, unforgiving ways. It is we who change, not God. We change our projections on God of being unloving and punishing and begin to experience him as she is.
I’ve spoken of our rule-loving-hating selves elsewhere. We are the source of our own alienation from God. Trained to be rule-followers we expect punishment when we “disobey.” Taught to follow the rules perfectly, we know we’re in trouble if we’re breaking commandments, if we’re treating people badly. We depend on the rules and resent them. And we project all this onto God.
Well, take back your projections! Let God be God. Christ be Christ. The Holy Spirit be the Holy Spirit. Let the love in! Let the forgiveness flow throughout your self, let it be at the cellular level! Let the Gospel, the Good News, live in you! Shine out to the world with love flowing from you, with compassion and caring in every action, with welcome in your arms and justice in your heart! Share God’s love!