In the midst of a crazy time juggling work, school and life in general, this past weekend I experienced a bit of an oasis in the midst of the storm. I was at the Invite 08 Soul Care for Leaders retreat/conference, hosted at Willow Creek and cosponsored by the Spiritual Formation Alliance and Soul Care. I was there leading a workshop on spiritual formation in the suburbs, and I was grateful for the gift of a time of retreat, worship and restoration.
In the morning, Doug and Marilyn Stewart (veteran spiritual directors with InterVarsity who go to my church) provided a guided retreat reflecting on Matthew 11:28-30, the classic passage where Jesus says, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." I realized that I often come to Jesus distracted and fragmented, but that's okay. He still invites me to come, even in the midst of those distractions, and to bring those things with me. And what jumped out at me was that Jesus does not say "I will take away your burdens." The stuff of life is still there. But he gives us rest, and that changes how we interact with our burdens.
I was also struck by the next line: "Take my yoke upon you and learn from me." I'm in the midst of an educational studies program, and something that has become clear to me is that there's a vast difference between teaching and learning. Christians have tended to focus a lot of energy on teaching and communicating the gospel and doctrinal content, but we have not thought as much about how people actually learn. We tend to assume that if we preach about it or teach about it, people will learn it. But that's often not the case. So this verse jumped out at me as one of the relatively few verses that speaks specifically of "learning" rather than "teaching." And it's significant that there's an experiential dimension to the learning. It's not just content download. It's lifestyle, practice, and exercise of trust.
Something else that was jolting to me was an application of the next phrase, "for I am gentle and humble in heart." I've always glossed over that, thinking, duh, of course Jesus is gentle and humble in heart. But I hadn't seen the connection between Jesus' character/identity and his call for us to learn from him. Could it be that Jesus wants US to learn to be gentle and humble in heart? Yikes - that changes things entirely! That means that this passage is not just about us getting a restful spiritual benefit. It means that Jesus is concerned about our apprenticeship to him and our character transformation. The more we are yoked to him, the more we should become like him.
Perhaps then we will be more likely to find rest for our souls. The more we are humble in heart, the less bent out of shape we will be by our burdens and the stuff of life. This passage is not just about God changing our external circumstances. It's about our internal transformation as well, which equips us to face our circumstances.
I have to admit that I am not very good with extended solitude and silence. I am a fairly antsy, restless person, and rather than sitting still during the retreat, I found myself roaming the halls and wandering aimlessly around the church. I am ambulatory that way. But even so, I think God connected with me in the midst of my frisky-puppy ENFP prone-to-wander personality type. And I am grateful.
During my workshop, something that came up in discussion was how frantic and crazy busy our suburban culture and lifestyle is. And we observed that that's perhaps why evangelical interest in spiritual formation has grown so much in recent years. It's countercultural to practice silence, solitude, retreat, sabbath, quiet, contemplation. It's interesting because I've now presented on suburban issues both at activist social-justice-type conferences as well as contemplative spiritual formation events. And the two kinds of communities can temper one another. We may naturally gravitate toward one group or the other, but the contemplative tradition can temper the activists, just as the activists can exhort the contemplatives. The church needs both.
Anyway, thanks to Mindy Caliguire and the Invite 08/Soul Care team for putting together the event, and for the invitation to come to Jesus and learn from him.