“Beware the barrenness of a busy life.” I suspect that many people know this experience: the busy parents chauffeuring kids to various sporting practices and games to the corporate executive traveling with the demands of their career, to the elderly grandparent giving their children a bit of a break by babysitting so they can have an evening out. It is easy to get caught up in the barrenness of a busy life.
But here is what is surprising about the quote. Somehow, you would suspect that this would be a somewhat modern day quote, befitting the hectic pace of our times. You’d be wrong. The author of the quote was Socrates – who died 399 B.C. Here was a man who spent more than his fair share of time thinking and reflecting. And a man who learned all about the dangers of restlessness that comes from filling every moment of every day with some kind of activity. Beware of that, he cautions. There is a restlessness that comes from being too busy, too full of activities, even if they are fun activities, even if they are good things to be involved in. Sometimes our business is a way to hide our emptiness. If we never have time to stop and think, we don’t have to face the fact that we are so lonely and so disconnected. “Beware the barrenness of a busy life.”
Jesus knew that same reality – in the people of his generation, as well as in his own busy life. He himself was always a man on the go, constantly meeting people, healing, teaching, traveling – it would have been easy for Jesus himself to fall prey to that busy kind of life. There is a way, he tells his disciples, not to get caught in that trap. There’s a great freedom I know, an easy burden, a light yoke – this kingdom way of living. Because it comes from a rested, restful soul. It comes from a place of freedom and not a place of “have to…” Take MY YOKE upon you and learn from me. There is a path to take that will keep you refreshed from within, that will be like a fountain spilling over inside of you.
Yet, as often as I have prayed that line and thought that line and reflected on that line, here is what I missed. I, in my busy-life-mindset, jumped right to the conclusion: take my yoke upon you; learn from me. “I can DO that. I got the doing of stuff down. And already I am in the doing world. But there is a necessary pre-step, a necessary condition that allows the path of kingdom living to become an easy yoke. “COME TO ME!” Without that step, every yoke we take, even if done in love, becomes an experience of barren business.
So, I have been struggling to find an image that will last, a way of thinking about this first part of kingdom living that will keep me focused on the essential point of Jesus’ teaching. And God was very good at providing it. Friday night, when I came home from fireworks, I was flipping channels on the TV – and caught the end of the Tom Cruise remake of War of the Worlds. Here is the image that I want you to have in your head about this invitation – to COME TO ME!
There is a scene, after all the action is over, when Tom is carrying his physically and emotionally exhausted child down the empty street to the Brownstone where his ex-wife lives. The door opens and mom appears on the steps. Dad sets his daughter down, and without a word, without an invitation, she simply RUNS pell-mell down the street, oblivious to anything but THROWING herself into her mother’s arms. The camera angle shifts, and now you see the silhouette of a teen framed in the door, the son, whom Tom was sure was dead. And even though he is much older than his little sister, also quickly makes his way down the steps to his dad, and after a moment of just looking in his eyes, also throws his arms around his father in this huge bear hug.
THAT IS WHAT JESUS wants us to know when we are trapped in the barrenness of a busy life. It is what has been revealed to the little ones – that we simply come and throw all our burdens, all our pain, all the weary emptiness and struggles of our lives into the amazing bear hug of grace and love with our Lord.
What a difference it would make, if we learned to approach our God with our burdens and weariness with that same childlike abandon…
P.S. – (at end of mass) If you want another image of the “Come to ME” part of today’s gospel – then do a web search and type in: “Soldier homecomings”. Click a link, almost any link, and image the homecoming you see there as what God wants you to do daily…