this piece appeared in The Melbourne Anglican October 2019
During the summer, in a burst of new-year planning enthusiasm, I asked a well-organised friend to help me with some weekly scheduling. I wanted to set up a pattern for the tasks that went into each day. Despite my friend’s expertise and willingness, the process did not go well. I was ill-prepared. I could not seem to complete the list of activities that would need to be factored in. Version after version had to be modified to allow for yet more obligations, work projects, household tasks, hospitality, prayer, reading and elder-care. The timetable was a mess, an unfunny picture of comic chaos. I was stewing in resentment, slumped with the impossibility of it.
A few days later, I set off for a three-day retreat at a small hermitage near Philip Island. When I arrived, I peeled myself out of the driving seat and collapsed on the grass in the sun.
Later in the afternoon I met with the retreat’s resident Spiritual Director. She said, “I see a lot of people like you, who wear themselves out in the name of Christian servanthood. I often offer this verse to them and there’s a question goes with it.”
The words were from Matthew’s gospel where Jesus says, “…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.”
The Spiritual Director’s question was, “Whose yoke are you bearing?” It did not take me long to recognise that I was complicit in creating the yoke that was wearing me down.
Soon I was asleep on a rug under a huge eucalypt. In the late afternoon the sun snuck under the hat protecting my face and I blinked awake. Not twenty feet away there were six Black Angus cattle lined up along the wire fence. Their attention did not stir or flicker. They were assembled, exact and equidistant, utterly unmoving. They stared at me with a level gaze. Birds landed on the backs of two of them and at length another two licked the outside of their mouths with fat fleshy tongues. Eventually their long, slow, silent gaze broke away and they began cricking their necks and inclining their heads.
I felt so met by their gaze. Even while I was resting, their orderly gentleness was forming, watching, waiting. I knew this was the learning: that sometimes, when we rest, things take shape, and stand ready, waiting for us to notice.
This year I have been beginning to see that resting is the thing I most need to plan. Jesus had needs constantly pressing in on him. He walked everywhere he had to go. He drew aside for prayer. Drawing aside is the impulse I need to follow. Jesus said his yoke was easy and his burden light. In our time-poor, endlessly distracted lives, this gentle truth is possibly one of the hardest sayings for us to trust.
Julie is an Associate Teacher at Pilgrim Theological College and the author of Tender, stories that lean into kindness.