The promise of rest

a bunch of people with their heads bowedMy friend LJ just had top surgery and is in the process of legally changing his name and gender. He’s bogged down navigating complicated health insurance and government identity systems while finishing up a doctorate in composition.

He told me sometimes all this “gender stuff” feels like it’s preventing him from focusing on the rest of his life: applying for jobs, finishing up commissioned pieces and his thesis. We agreed that even when we work so hard to get to a place where we are capable of bettering ourselves, there’s still so much room for self-doubt.

I had a similar conversation with B, the woman I recently started dating. She has spent the last year focusing on herself, using therapy and self-reflection to work through childhood trauma. This work has taken away energy from other things: energy she used to put towards career, friends and family, for instance. We talked about how it’s difficult in what feels like the middle of a process (one with no end in site) to consistently trust it’s worthwhile.

In both conversations, I felt the need to encourage them to continue valuing self-work, even when it’s exhausting. And I know that exhaustion so well.

Through my writing, I work to feel comfortable in my queerness, to grow my relationship with God, and to convince myself that, when I’m lonely, I’m still worth loving. I’m in my thesis year of my MFA and spend many hours each day working on a memoir which deals with all these things. Some days I have to stop writing because I’m bringing up memories that fill me with guilt or shame. Eventually I believe I’ll finding healing through my writing. But the work isn’t easy.

I was thinking about all of this a few days ago when, as a part of an advent devotional, I studied one of my favorite scripture passages. For years, I’ve turned to Mathew 11:28-30 for comfort:

Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, 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.

Jesus promises rest, and fuck do I need that rest. B and LJ need rest as well. We all need rest, and the world doesn’t often seem to offer much of it.

New things struck me as I reread this passage. When I started turning to this passage for comfort, in my twenties, I considered Jesus divinely empowered. As a part of the Godhead, he was like a superhero. Of course, in this mindset, Jesus was strong enough to carry my burden. I now believe that in his time on Earth, he was just a guy. A spiritual leader. A mystic. With one amazing connection to God.

Image of a tattooed Jesus
Both images by Alexis Covato

So thinking of Jesus as a mortal man, I started to really consider his life. He was constantly kicked out of towns for fraternizing (and healing) the untouchables — the outcasts. Religious leaders argued with him, trying to trick him so they could condemn him. Scripture reminds us that, everywhere he went, he was touched by the suffering of others. Jesus was an empath, and that is never easy. So what did he mean that his burden was light? His burden certainly did not seem light.

Perhaps it was because of his hard life that he understood what it meant to have heavy burdens. The NASV study Bible has an alternative translation for “weary and carry heavy burdens.” In a side note, it suggests “work to exhaustion.” Those words hit home. Lately I’ve been telling anyone that asks how I’m doing that I feel like I get up and start running emotionally or creatively until I collapse, then I anxiously wait until the day is over, for the next day which will bring new energy to start running again. I felt so known reading the words, “all you who work to exhaustion.”

What does it mean that his burden was light? I don’t think it means he didn’t suffer. Even as we mature and learn to make better choices for ourselves, I don’t think we suffer less — I think we just handle it better. Being convinced that what we are doing in life is important doesn’t make it less difficult, but it makes the difficulties we face more worthwhile.

I imagine his lightness has to do with his trust in God. Even if he still suffered — still felt other’s pain, and the brokenness of the world — I imagine he was filled with the lightness of hope and redemption.  Love lightens our loads. Not carrying it alone.

Jesus wasn’t alone. He had his companions. He also had the kind of relationship with God which led him to call God “Abba” or Daddy.

I’m struck by how very not alone I am, as well. I feel called to value the things I value. Relationships, social justice, sexuality, gender, spiritual pursuits, healing and learning to love our authentic selves — these are the things I value, and I’m grateful to have people in my life who share them. You’ve probably come to this blog because you fit in there somewhere.

I believe both B and LJ will be a richer human beings for the self-work they’re doing. They will be better composers, writers, friends, and lovers. I am honored to watch them grow. And their love lightens my load.

I’m grateful that even if I don’t understand how, Jesus, resurrected, is present (perhaps now having some Godly superpowers). I know Jesus is beside me, sharing my burden, knowing me fully in my exhaustion. I still don’t truly understand how to find rest for my soul, but I find comfort knowing my work is worthwhile. And knowing I am not alone.

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