Dear Working Preacher,
How are you?
No, really, how are you? How is it with your heart, your spirit?
I hope you are well. I hope that the ministry you are doing these days is giving you life. I hope that you are finding joy in the immense privilege of preaching and teaching and being invited into the lives of your people both in happy times and in heart-wrenching times. It is holy work you are doing. It is holy ground on which you are standing.
But it is also hard, this life of being a pastor. I remember being surprised in my first year of parish ministry. I loved what I was doing. It felt right, somehow, and meaningful, to be preaching and teaching the Gospel, visiting shut-ins and hospitalized folks, walking with people in times of grief and joy. But it also, at times, felt lonely. And it also, at times, felt…heavy. That’s the only word that comes to mind. It felt heavy, like I was carrying the accumulated load of sorrow of all the people in that wonderful, loving congregation.
Now, a lot of that, I’m sure, had to do with the fact that I was young and new to ministry. I probably resembled too much the subject of an old Indigo Girls’ song, “The Girl with the Weight of the World in Her Hands.”
But that wasn’t all of it. The life of pastoral ministry can be heavy at times. When you have to bury people you love, when accidents or disease take people too soon, when people confess marital problems or secret sin to you, when conflict arises, it can feel…heavy.
If that is the case for you these days, if you feel like you are carrying the weight of the world in your hands or on your shoulders, listen to this invitation from Jesus:
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 (Matthew 11:28-30).
Perhaps you especially need to hear that promise again during these days. It is an unsettling time, to say the least. As I write this, the headlines speak about surging COVID-19 cases in the southern and western U.S., as well as in South America. There are disturbing videos of police violence against black and brown Americans and against those who are protesting such violence. There are millions of Americans out of work and there is widespread uncertainty about what the coming months will bring, especially as a contentious and vitally important presidential election looms on the horizon. Given all this, it is not surprising that a recent survey finds that Americans are more unhappy now than at any time in the last 50 years.1
It is a heavy time. Not just here in Minnesota, where George Floyd died under the knee of a casually brutal cop. Not just in the United States, where social, political, public health, and economic turmoil seems to engulf the nation. It is a heavy time around the world, as the pandemic continues to take a huge toll in lives lost and economies severely weakened.
So, I hope it is well with your soul. But if you are carrying a heavy load, listen again to this invitation: “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.”
“Come to me,” Jesus says, “take my yoke upon you and learn from me.” “For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Do you notice all the first-person pronouns? That’s an important thing to note. It means we are not doing this work alone. Far from it. This is Christ’s church, not ours.
Now, we have a part to play, of course. We are witnesses to God’s work. Look at the earlier part of this chapter: “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard,” Jesus says to the messengers from John the Baptist who asks through them if Jesus is the one who is to come (Matthew 11:4). Jesus says the same to us: “Go and tell what you have seen and heard.” We are witnesses, but we are not saviors. We are witnesses, but we are not the Messiah.
So lay down your burdens, lay down your heavy load. Learn from the One who regularly departed from the demanding crowds in order to go away by himself to a quiet place to pray (Matthew 14:13, 22).
To do so is not to shirk your duty. You will come back and take up the tasks and ministry of the day again. But in that quiet place, you can shed the excess worry and care that are not yours to carry. You can lay down your heavy load and take up again the yoke that Jesus offers. To take time to go to a quiet place and pray is to acknowledge that the burden is not really yours to carry in the first place. The yoke that Jesus offers is a shared burden, and it is light because Jesus is the one who carries it with you and for you.
It is holy work that you are doing. It is holy ground on which you are standing. You are living out with your people what it means to be “prisoners of hope” (Zechariah 9:12) in this time and place, when many other comforts and defenses have been stripped away. It is a great privilege to be in ministry in such a time. But when the load seems too heavy, when the burdens weigh you down, I pray that you find rest in Jesus’ invitation and promise: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”
Thank you for all you do to share that word of promise with those around you, and to live it out in your life. God bless you in your work and in your rest.
- AP News, June 16, 2020: “Poll: Americans are the Unhappiest They’ve Been in 50 Years,” https://apnews.com/0f6b9be04fa0d3194401821a72665a50