I was having one of those days – a whole string of them, actually – where it felt as though I spent every workday perched atop some amusement park ride called “The Scrambler.” Through sheer force of will, I repeatedly managed to eject myself at the end of the day, only to turn around and jump right back on the next morning. Why is it they don’t make amusement park rides called “The Workday?” It would be more harrowing than any 30 story free-fall ride of terror, that’s for sure.
After ejecting myself from the office for the third time that week and eating a supper consisting largely of burnt meatloaf, I headed out with my dog for our evening walk. I was moving at a leisurely pace, more from exhaustion than from any real sense of leisure, when a gold finch flew to a bough just ahead of me. He fluttered his wings, sounded a short little trill, and then bounded back off into the bushes. I thought: life can be so simple.
It’s so easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of work, school, children, spouses, parents, friends, sports, hobbies, commitments…too easy to forget that as Jesus told the fretting Martha, “Only one thing is needed” (Luke 10:42). That “one thing” is Jesus. Come to me, He tells us, all you who are weary and burdened, 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 soul. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light (Matthew 11:28-30). The Bible further tells us: It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil: for He gives to his beloved sleep (Psalm 127:3).
Ah, sleep! And yet, I rise up early and go to bed late, day after day.
Why is it so difficult to daily lay our burdens down? How many nights has my mind paced the darkness, “eating the bread of anxious toil?” Why is it so easy to become worried and upset about many things, when only one thing is needed? How is it that when I see the dainty flash of gold feathers I feel the weight lift suddenly – if only momentarily – from my shoulders as I am reminded that life can be so simple?
The apostles recognized the challenge of living in this world without becoming a part of it, the challenge of being “aliens and strangers in the world” (1Peter 2:11). It is a fine balancing act. It is not easy to sit quietly at the feet of Jesus while the needs of the world press down upon us. We cannot ignore the daily hassles and heartaches that come our way. We have to work, care for our children, meet that imminent deadline… The fact is, we are in this world, even if we are not of it. The key, as Paul wrote (Philippians 3:13-14), is to run our race with our eye on the goal, even though we haven’t yet reached it. We are to be in this world and face the challenges of this world, but never forget our ultimate destination.
For me, reminders of the ultimate goal frequently come in the natural world. I need time away from four walls and a roof, even if it is just 15 seconds on the porch. Outside, the world still moves at the pace of God’s creation and not at the pace of my own creation. The key for me is to remember that it’s possible for me to move at God’s pace, too. To walk that fine line between running my race, but not laboring in vain.
For you, the reminder may be vastly different. And you may be facing something far more harrowing than a harried work day and a burnt meatloaf. But whether it comes in the form of a feathered critter or some other small reminder, may God grant each one of us a simple moment to impel us when our race running begins to look a bit too much like vain laboring.
I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone O Lord make me dwell in safety (Psalm 4:8).