Yesterday, Simcha asked a great question about the Lord's famous teaching that his yoke is easy, and his burden is light. She wrote:
I understand that we can unite our suffering with Christ's -- that we can elevate any pain or sorrow, and that none of it is lost, none of it has to be in vain. But that makes it worthwhile; that rescues it from futility. It doesn't make it easy or light. I guess I just don't understand why Christ used those particular words.
She ended by asking, "What does this verse mean to you? What does 'easy and light' mean?" It's a phrase that I have puzzled over as well, but when it makes most sense to me is when I contrast my life now to my life when I was an atheist. It's not that I have fewer troubles now, or even that they don't ever bother me. But without a doubt, I have found the Christian yoke to be light, and it comes down to one simple thing: I no longer feel like a god.
When you believe that there is no God, there's a natural temptation to think of yourself as a sort of god. Perhaps not everyone falls into this way of thinking, but I certainly did. My worldview had a gaping hole in it where God should have been, and I filled it with self. I made all the rules, concocted my own moral code, and planned my life down to the smallest detail. I thought that the path to the good life involved amassing as much autonomy as possible, and I pursued that goal vigorously. I enjoyed what I perceived to be freedom, but soon found that it all came with a harsh downside. As I began to desire more and more control, I sought to wield power over not only every aspect of my own circumstances, but over the circumstances of my loved ones as well. This brought with it the two-ton feeling that it was all up to me: it was up to me to keep my loved-ones safe, to bring good out of bad situations, to know the right answers, to keep my family's lives on the perfect track, to solve the world's problems -- all of this in addition to orchestrating all the details of my own life.
In the book Praying with Icons, author Jim Forest writes that "contemplation of the face of Christ can save us from the hell of fear-driven selfishness." That was where I spent a lot of time in my life before Christ: the hell of selfishness, driven by a terrible fear that I would suffer too much or I wouldn't be happy or everything would fall apart if I didn't make all the right decisions.
The first spiritual director I had after my conversion used to say frequently, "You be you, and let God be God." When I accepted that advice, it was an act of laying down the crushing yoke of my old life, and accepting the Lord's yoke instead. It didn't mean that my problems went away, or even that I never felt burdened by them. But it was a letting go of that suffocating feeling that everything was up to me, an understanding that I could step back and trust my loving Father to be in charge. Christ's yoke might not be weightless, but it is so very light in comparison to a life without him, because there is no burden greater than that of being a god.