by Rob Hammock
COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. are now over 160,000 from over 4.9 million cases. In the wake of the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd, Black Lives Matter protests continue. The unemployment rate is back down to 10%, but individuals and families worry about the potential of eviction or foreclosure as federal financial support has lapsed. Meanwhile, arguments fly back and forth in the media and social media over “cancel culture” and whether or not wearing a mask is good public health policy or an affront to basic freedoms.
I am tired.
Beginning the sixth month of stay-at-home orders and lockdowns and masks and closed businesses, living in this time of uncertainty, fear, and frustration drains me. Sure, my canine co-workers love it and will probably be sorely disappointed if I ever go back to working in an office, but I miss the easy in-person interaction of others and the off the cuff conversations that happen throughout the day. Zoom calls have certainly lightened the load as I have figured out how to play trivia online and sing together in groups, yet Zoom fatigue is real. I miss being able to walk down the street and interact with neighbors as we visit stores and restaurants. I miss being able to come together over sporting events and cheering on my favorite teams. I miss being able to come together to work on challenges in our community together. I miss worship with actual people and tangible communion elements!
I am weary.
“‘Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.’” (Matthew 11:28 NRSV)
These words of Jesus from Matthew have given me great comfort over the years, particularly when I have wrestled with depressive thoughts and anxiety. I imagine the welcoming, open arms of Christ beckoning me to sit and rest and absorb the love that is all comforting and unconditional in ways that I don’t fully understand and still have a difficult time believing might even be true for me. I am grateful for this invitation and long to sink into it. In corona-time, this invitation feels even more compelling as I await some return to normalcy away from Zoom and away from the constant din of social media and news that is ever frustrating and constantly imbued with anger, derision, scorn, and fear.
And yet, what is the “normal” I seek? What is the invitation to learn from Jesus that follows the call to rest? There may be a period of rest and comfort, but a return to “normal” in the context of the invitation is not the expectation.
“Learn from me” (Matthew 11:29)
If I am worn-down, depressed, and anxious, Jesus is calling me out of that confusion and inviting me to a different place to be open to a new way of being. Business as usual has not worked for my emotional, mental, physical, or spiritual sanity, so there needs to be a new way. “Normal” cannot be the answer, but Jesus is there to guide me, if I am open to surrender to the call.
“For my yoke is easy.” (Matthew 11:30)
I’ve missed the irony in the next verse regarding the easiness of the yoke. From Merriam-Webster, a yoke is a “a wooden bar or frame by which two draft animals are joined at the heads or necks for working together.” What in the world sounds easy about a yoke being placed upon me? This sounds like hard, grueling work! But it is simple if I am willing to be open and teachable.
The age of corona-time has offered me the space for reflection and contemplation. The welcoming rest to cast my cares and burdens upon Jesus is real, but it is for rejuvenation and restoration for a new path. To take upon his yoke is to learn and lean in and join in the work. Ultimately, if I’m not stuck too strongly in a place of comfort, I remember it is to join in the work that led Jesus on to the cross.
What is my normal?
In light of my frustrations and weariness, I look back upon what I’m tired from, and I’m struck by how privileged I am to be weary. Where I have legitimate struggles of heart, mind, and health, I can identify them and not minimize them, but I can also right-size my view to know how much I have to be grateful for and that I need to practice the act of gratitude remembrance to counter the negativity.
My family is healthy.
I have shelter.
I have enough food to eat.
I don’t fear being arrested.
My wife and I have jobs that allow us to make ends meet.
My “normal” in pre-corona-time was pretty good. And I am grateful. But, if I am to take on Jesus’ yoke and learn, then part of that task is to remember and know that I do not exist solely for myself. Having been able to find rest and acknowledge Jesus’ love, part of the yoke is to internalize it so I can share it with others whose burden isn’t light and who are indeed quite weary.
What is my yoke?
Friends and neighbors who have sick loved ones from COVID-19.
Depressed and anxious people living with mental health diagnoses.
Folks worried about not being able to pay the rent or the mortgage.
Families who pray they can find ways to extend the groceries to feed their children.
Black people worried about whether or not they may be the target of the police.
Small business owners wondering if their livelihood is at risk.
Employees on edge waiting to find out if they’re the next to be let go or furloughed.
My privileged rest has the opportunity to take up Jesus’ yoke and be there for those who cannot find a way right now. For those who are fretting. For those who are frustrated. For those who feel powerless. For those who are disenfranchised. I need to listen, learn, and be present where possible to extend Jesus’ grace in solidarity to bear the burdens of my siblings in Christ and neighbors. I know my skills and resources, and I know I am blessed. I can do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with my God.
To whom can you listen? From what can you learn? And where can you be present?
What is your yoke?
Robert Hammock recently rolled off of the Session after a 3-year term at Caldwell Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, NC. Although trained at Princeton Theological Seminary (MDIV), the last 20 years of his career have been focused on affordable housing and community development efforts, primarily in urban contexts. He remains active in a leadership role through his church’s development of affordable housing through the re-purposing of part of its campus.
Rob is also a part of the NEXT Church blogging cohort, and his writing focuses on faith, ministry, and community development.