Rest For The Weary

There’s an invitation that Jesus gave to a crowd in Matthew 11 and while I don’t know where you are at right now I know where I’m at, and I’m going to take Him up on it. He said, “Come to me, 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 souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:28-30).

In another month I will be “celebrating” (and I use that term loosely) the third anniversary of when I lost my job in Houston. Three long years have passed since that day, and a whole lot of stuff has happened along the way. On that fateful day I immediately lost my $52,000/yr salary along with the job, and it took a month of waiting for approval and processing for me to receive my first unemployment check from Florida–$275/wk before taxes (that’s the maximum a person can receive from Florida). I had not been working in Texas long enough to collect unemployment from Texas (which, I think at the time, was $392/wk). Being new to Houston and Texas just a scant seven months earlier I did not have time yet to build a network of professional colleagues or friends, and I didn’t know anyone in Houston before I moved there. I came for the job.

At the time my apartment rent was $845/mo., and I still had six months left of car payments, plus the other assorted bills that come from living—electric, phone, internet, water, and the necessities of living—gas for the car, food, all the other necessities (you know, like toilet paper, dish soap, deodorant, toothpaste, and that list is endless). If you do the math, my unemployment checks didn’t cover all the costs and I immediately had to dip into my savings, which was not substantial by any means. And, I still had five months left on my apartment lease so I couldn’t move. Talk about a double bind.

I had several interviews during those five months and while I think I came close at least once to being offered a job, nothing materialized before my lease ended, and I couldn’t afford to stay in Texas. A friend in Florida offered her spare bedroom to me, and while I really wanted to stay in Houston, I couldn’t afford to stay financially. Unfortunately, I could not afford to move most of my possessions including all of my furniture and between 600-1000 books back to Florida so I lost almost all of it. I’ve talked about this in previous posts so I don’t want to repeat myself. But I lost more than I’ve ever lost in my entire life when I lost that job in Houston.

A lot has happened in these past three years and my previous posts have touched on different things that I’ve learned along the way. I’ve lost a good friend and rarely hear from some others I knew before I lost my job. I guess after a while folks don’t know what to say. I’ve networked with enough other unemployed people to know that what you hear in the news is a bunch of hogwash when it comes to reporting the “real” unemployment figures in America. But then it’s an election year and what else can we expect? Everybody’s wearing rose-colored glasses to hide the carnage.

As I approach that third anniversary mark, I am growing weary. I’ve had a few friends who have told me that I’ve held up remarkably well considering all that has happened during this time. Since my unemployment benefits ran out at the end of May 2011 after collecting 99 weeks I have had no income and have been living on my savings.

The “seasonal rental” I’ve been living in (a completely furnished efficiency apartment in the upstairs of an old house) has been my home for the past two years and three months. When I moved in I told the landlady that I might be here at the most six months—just until I found a job and moved on. We laughed after the first year passed and I still had no job. Now it’s over two years since I moved in here and it’s no longer funny. And, the house was sold to new owners effective March 1st. Change is in the air. But I can’t see where it’s taking me and I have no place to go yet.

Did I mention I’ve applied for close to 500 jobs, mostly in my profession, since April 2009? Weary? Yes. Bone weary, actually.

“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” (Matt. 11:29-30).

During this time I have spent considerable time pouring over the words of Jesus as well as those of the Apostle Paul and many of the Old Testament saints, like David, Esther, Job, the Prophets, and others. The Bible has come alive to me in a way that I’ve never experienced before, and this has been one of the biggest highlights of these past three years. And I’ve learned to understand just what Jesus was saying when He said that He was “gentle and humble in heart.”

However, when Jesus said that we should take His yoke upon us because His yoke is easy and His burden is light, I have to admit that I was a bit confused. The yoke and burden that He bore on His road to Calvary was neither easy nor light. Indeed, the persecution that He suffered during His ministry (mainly from the Pharisees—the “religious folks” of His day although even the Roman soldiers got into the act at the time of His crucifixion) was exceedingly intense and ended with His crucifixion. However, His mission while on earth was not just that of a mere man, but the very Son of God, who paid the ultimate sacrifice for the sins of the world on that cross and rose again on the third day.

The yoke that is easy and the burden that is light therefore must refer to the fact that He was and is “gentle and humble in heart,” and that is the yoke that He wants us to take and learn from, and it is in that yoke where we will find rest for our souls, no matter what the external circumstances look like. The “rest” is from Him and in Him.

Lately, when I find that I am just too weary from trying to figure out why this very long time of unemployment just keeps going on with no end in sight, and I have absolutely no idea what’s up ahead or what direction I should be taking, I put on some praise and worship music (like the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir or Shannon Wexelberg and others) and start singing along, and as I sing with a focus on Him I am lifted beyond my circumstances and gain a strength for that day to see it through, and that strength is from Him. And I become more gentle and humble, too (hopefully. . . humility is not easy for any of us). I begin to see the world from His perspective instead of through the weary lens of my own.

I believe God moves in our circumstances when we praise Him with heartfelt praise that centers our gaze and our hearts on Him. I may not know what to pray about (sometimes the words just aren’t there), but praise comes from the heart and takes the focus off of me.

Four days ago I was in an email exchange with a professional colleague in higher education I met in July 2009 during an interview I had for a job while I was still in Houston. While I didn’t get the job (they needed someone with a P/L Business background and my background is in student services), we are connected through a professional networking website. He posted an article last week that I responded to, and in his response he asked me how things were going (he knows I’ve been unemployed for a long time). I mentioned that it was hard for me to believe that I’m still unemployed after almost three years. His last statement to me was “Your journey has been difficult. We should discuss.”

Who knows? Maybe a change is in the air. However, the biggest change for me is learning the real value of praise.

YouTube video: “Total Praise” by The Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir (on “High & Lifted Up” CD, 1999)

Photo credit here

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