His Yoke Is Well-Fitted
“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)
These lines from Matthew’s Gospel used to confuse the heck out of me. I loved the idea of going to Jesus with my burdens (especially during my twenties, when I felt oh-so-weary most of the time), but what in the world did the Lord mean when he said his yoke was easy? Following Jesus isn’t easy! I believed then (and still do) that it’s always and forever worth it to be a Christian, even when it’s difficult, but it’s difficult a lot of the time. For some of us, it feels difficult most of the time.
It’s not easy to love our enemies. It’s not easy to think of others before yourself. It’s not easy to make financial decisions from a stewardship perspective (especially when you've never disciplined yourself to budget properly...not that I have any personal experience with that). It’s not easy to fast, pray, or give alms. It’s not easy to lay down our lives for others. It’s not easy to be faithful to Christ while you’re in high school. Or college. Or a single young adult. Or married. Or struggling with infertility. Or raising small children. And yet all of these things are asked of us--to varying degrees--as Christians. How can Jesus say that his “yoke is easy” and expect us to believe it?
A couple of years ago, a blog post by a former spiritual director of mine, Msgr. Charles Pope, helped me understand Jesus’ words in a new way:
Jesus says that the cross He has for us is “easy.” The Greek word χρηστὸς (chrestos) is better translated as “well-fitting,” “suitable,” or even “useful.” The Lord is saying that the yoke He has for us is suited to us; it is well-fitting; it has been carefully chosen so as to be useful for us. God knows that we need some crosses in order to grow and He knows what they are. He also knows what we can bear and what we are ready for. Yes, His yoke for us is well-fitting.
Mind. Blown. His yoke is well-fitting. It was designed for me, which means that with God's grace, its weight won't crush me.
His yoke is well-fitting. Only the crosses Jesus asks me to carry will be well-fitted to me.
Those are the crosses that I will have the grace to bear and the strength to endure. But so often, I place self-made and poorly-fitting yokes on my shoulders and don’t understand why they feel so overwhelming.
I know I did this with my anxiety for a long time: I was convinced that my anxiety disorder was my yoke from the Lord, and that I just had to suck it up and endure it. I begged the Lord to free me from it, but at the same time, I was not open to the paths to freedom that he put in front of me (e.g. therapy and medication). When I look back on my twenties, all of which I spent under the oppressive yoke of an anxiety disorder, I realize that it wasn’t Jesus’ well-fitting yoke that I was carrying. I didn’t have to live this way.
In December 2014, after the worst bout of depression I had yet experienced, it became clear to me that I needed to let go of my self-made cross and allow the Lord to heal me. A month later, I went to see my doctor, got on an SSRI, and started going to therapy again. It was only when I was freed from this unbearable yoke that I was able to fully embrace the crosses the Lord was actually asking me to carry.
Since getting engaged, married, and pregnant, I’ve been tempted many times to reconstruct the yoke of anxiety and fear and trudge through life carrying it. Granted, I am no longer as prone to give into this temptation thanks to the emotional and psychological healing I’ve experienced, but it’s still there. My therapist and spiritual director have to remind me (regularly) to only carry the crosses the Lord has asked me to carry, because those are the only ones that are fitted exactly to my spiritual specifications.
The yoke of teaching high school was well-fitted to me, and even on the toughest days (and there were some tough days), it was bearable because it was from the Lord.
The yoke of sharing myself with my readers and those who hear me speak also fits me well, even when it’s difficult to do, because the Lord has asked it of me.
The yoke of marriage to Kristian is well-fitted, even though I often feel like I don’t deserve him and can’t possibly love him as he ought to be loved, day in and day out, for the rest of our lives. But I can, and by the grace of God I will, because the Lord has asked it of me.
The yoke of motherhood to Baby J, which I’m about to experience in a new and radical way, is one that is fitted precisely to me--regardless of how daunting it seems. The Lord designed this yoke for my shoulders, which means that he will equip me with what I need to be my baby boy’s mom. After spending several months of my pregnancy agonizing about how inadequate I feel in the face of this new vocation, I was struck anew by this truth, and I’ve clung to it ever since.
What does this mean for you? I can’t say. But I do know that it is incredibly freeing to discern between Jesus’ yoke and the ones we’ve made for ourselves (or that Satan has thrust upon our shoulders). The yoke the Lord has for you will not lead you into misery, despair, or condemnation. His yoke won’t be pleasant all the time--and may even feel downright impossible to carry--but it is well-fitted to you, and it is, whether or not you realize it right now, bringing your weary soul closer to Jesus.