Our lesson starts with the beautiful scripture:
"Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light" (Matt. 11:28-30).
How does this saying jell with all those other things Christ said? Things like:
"He that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me" (Matt. 10:38). A cross is not an easy burden!
"Every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name's sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life" (Matt. 19:29). That doesn't sound easy!
"One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me" (Mark 10:21). Okay, trading in everything you have for a cross? That does not sound like a good deal.
And what happened to all those early Apostles who did this? Did even one of them die a natural death? No. They were all martyrs for the cause. Was that an easy burden?
And even in our latter-day luxury, as members of the Church, we are required to give all that we possess, our time, our talents, everything! There are a whole lot of commandments, expectations and demands imposed upon us by our religion.
How is that easy?
THE PARADOX OF THE CHRISTIAN WAY
A paradox is a "statement or proposition that seems self-contradictory or absurd but in reality expresses a possible truth" (Dictionary.com). Christ's Way is very possibly the greatest paradox that ever was. David H. Stern, a Messianic Jew (a Jew who believes in Christ), states it this way: [Christ] speaks of his own easy yoke and light burden. These two are sometimes contrasted in a way implying that in comparison with Judaism, Christianity offers 'cheap grace.' But this saying...must be put alongside remarks such as [the "take up your cross" scripture]. The easy yoke consists in a total commitment to godliness through the power of the Holy Spirit. It at once requires both no effort and maximal effort--no effort, in that the necessary moment-to-moment faith can not be worked up from within but is a gift of God; and maximal effort, in that there is no predeterminable level of holiness and obedience sufficient to satisfy God and let us rest on our laurels" (Stern, p. 44).
So how does it work? What does this paradox really mean?
THE COST AND BENEFITS OF DISCIPLESHIP
Camille Fronk (Olson) listed five ways in which our burden becomes light when we are yoked with the Savior.
1) We can dispose of unnecessary baggage: sins not repented of; sins repented of but still dwelled upon in guilt; being judgmental or competitive; worldly aspirations; grudges. We are warned against many of these pitfalls in the Sermon on the Mount.
2) We can gain sustaining power through the covenants we make. They are the primary source of power in life. When we covenant, God promises to bear us up.
3) We get mutual support from other saints, as agreed in our baptismal covenant. There is a synergy in the Church. We help each other, and we gain wisdom from each other's trials without having to personally experience them all ourselves. We rejoice with each other, and our joy is doubled.
4) The Lord makes us stronger. We build spiritual muscle through consistent use. We learn step by step, line upon line.
5) Christ teaches us how to carry burdens, how to be "meek and lowly of heart." We learn from him how to never be weary of well-doing, how to be patient in trials, how to submit to God's will. Jesus knows how to carry a heavy burden.
The vendor in the picture below illustrates how a yoke helps--with the yoke, he can carry a much heavier load than he could with his arms. Because of the leverage and balance provided by the yoke, the burden is distributed so well that it feels significantly lighter than its actual weight. The vendor is able to reap the benefits of the heavier burden in his sales. The yoke is a tremendous boon to him.
THROWING OUT THE YARDSTICK
Until we take Christ's yoke upon us, we expend a lot of effort checking to see if we have given enough to the Savior. We have our checklist of commandments. We have our Mormon culture that adds even more to the checklist. We have things we need to give up in our lives, and things we need add. When we try to keep track of our checklist of individual commandments, it is as if this vendor were trying to carry all of these items in his arms. We don't find the burden easy until we give ourselves over completely, and that is why Christ taught us to "Love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you" (Moro. 10:32). When we take up the yoke of Christ, we throw out the scales and the yardstick.
"It sounds so hard to give in a trusting, unmeasured way. And yet it is the measuring that wears us out...It is precisely this exhaustion the Lord is adressing when he says, 'Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest'...
"Once I believed that I could give well-being to others with no yoke at all--by telling them that they were wonderful just the way they were. Now I know...I was trying to give them pride. It must surely have stood in the way of their peace. A yoke is necessary, I now know, but not a heavy 'checklister's yoke.' It is the light burden and the easy yoke of giving your whole heart--doing all you can and looking to the Lord to make up for your inadequacy...We can have peace...It comes through identifying that the need of our heart is grace, and that grace comes when the motivation for our unmeasured doing is founded in love" (Rasband, p. 29-30).
A FORMULA FOR SUCCESS
This leads us into one way in which Christ teaches us how to carry heavy burdens so that they will be light.
There is really only one commandment: To love. "For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself" (Gal. 5:14). There are many different ways in which to express that love, including making and keeping covenants, serving in the kingdom, learning about our Savior, giving up our sins through the Atonement. Often we get confused and base our obedience not on the real commandment, the commandment to love, but on some fear-based motivation. Therefore, almost every "commandment" we "keep" can be either a heavy burden or a light and joyful burden.
There are two principles of the gospel that work hand-in-hand with love, forming a magnificent trio with which we can "do all things through Christ which strengtheneth" us. They apply to our very salvation, but they also apply to everyday situations and problems. In order to achieve goals, make changes, repent of sins, magnify our callings, or make any positive, permanent steps toward becoming more like Christ and receiving his peace in our lives, we must exercise faith, hope, and charity. These three comprise a true formula for success in any righteous endeavor.
"Christ truly said...If ye have faith ye can do all things which are expedient unto me" (Moro. 10:23). "Faith is a principle of action and of power...True faith always moves its possessor to some kind of physical and mental action" (Bible Dictionary, Faith). Faith refers to the works that you do to create the change. Your faith must be based on Jesus Christ and his ability to help in you in order for it to have full effect. Exercising your faith gives you reason to hope for change, even "hope for a better world," both in this earthly existence and in the next life.
"...Hope cometh of faith, maketh an anchor to the souls of men, which would make them sure and steadfast" (Ether 12:4). Hope seems an unassuming, ethereal principle, but it is absolutely essential to this process. "If ye have no hope ye must needs be in despair; and despair cometh because of iniquity" (Moro. 10:22). What? Despair is a sin? What is the sin? A lack of faith in Christ. (See "The Miracle of Peace" in a previous lesson for more on this.) Faith and love form the breastplate of righteousness, but hope is the helmet, the vision, the perspective, the frame of mind that makes the other two efficacious (1 Thess. 5:8).
"Wherefore, my beloved brethren, if ye have not charity, ye are nothing, for charity never faileth. Wherefore, cleave unto charity, which is the greatest of all..." (Moro. 7:46). Why is charity essential? Because it is the only thing that works! Let's look at a familiar scripture: "No power or influence can or ought to be maintained...only by [the attributes of charity:] persuasion, long-suffering, gentleness, meekness...love unfeigned..." (D&C 121:41). Let's revisit this scripture, not worrying about what we ought to do. "No power or influence CAN...be maintained..." It isn't just that we should have love; it is that love is the only motivation that will work to effect lasting change.
Plug this formula into any problem you are having, any sin issue you need to overcome, any relationship challenge, any habit you would like to change, any goal you would like to reach, any trial you must endure, and you will find that it is a true formula for success.
Let's take a change that is easy for many to relate to: Getting in good physical condition. If the motivation is self-loathing because of your past sloth and overindulgence, and embarrassment over your extra pounds, you may succeed for a while, but eventually the feelings of resentment and deprivation will take over. For lasting success, the motivation needs to be love-based: gratitude and respect for your mortal body, greater energy to do the things you love, ability to enjoy nature more easily, longevity of life, etc. Any motivation that is not love-based is fear-based and works in opposition to the mind of Christ. "For God hath not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind" (2 Tim. 1:7).
You must also exercise faith. You must take action. You must employ a fitness plan that is based on true principles so that you can have faith in the process. The guidance of the Spirit can help you know which path to take. You must have faith that Jesus Christ will help you to succeed. Therefore, you must also have a knowledge that your goal is in line with his plan for your life. This can be validated through prayer and the ensuing personal revelation. You must also have faith in yourself and in your ability to change with the Savior's help.
And you must not overlook hope, which so many often do! Hope is the expectation, the vision, the attitude of success. You must be positively focused at all times, even when--especially when--the going gets rough. You need a clear vision of what you hope to accomplish, and an expectation that it will come to pass.
Without an ongoing state of hope, you will lose faith and stop action.
Without the action of faith, you will lose hope or have a false hope.
Without love, you will run out of patience and energy before the process is completed with the resulting change solidly in place.
The divine formula of faith, hope and charity is one way that Christ's easy yoke makes our burdens light.
BOTH HARDER AND EASIER
C.S. Lewis wrote: "The ordinary idea which we all have before we become Christians is this. We take as starting point our ordinary self with its various desires and interests. We then admit that something else--call it 'morality' or 'decent behaviour,' or 'the good of society'--has claims on this self: claims which interfere with its own desires. What we mean by 'being good' is giving in to those claims. Some of the things the ordinary self wanted to do turn out to be what we call 'wrong': well, we must give them up. Other things, which the self did not want to do, turn out to be what we call 'right': well, we shall have to do them. But we are hoping all the time that when all the demands have been met, the poor natural self will still have some chance, and some time, to get on with its own life and do what it likes. In fact, we are very like an honest man paying his taxes. He pays them all right, but he does hope that there will be enough left over for him to live on. Because we are still taking our natural self as the starting point.
"As long as we are thinking that way, one or other of two results is likely to follow. Either we give up trying to be good, or else we become very unhappy indeed. For, make no mistake: if you are really going to try to meet all the demands made on the natural self, it will not have enough left over to live on. The more you obey your conscience, the more your conscience will demand of you. And your natural self, which is thus being starved and hampered and worried at every turn, will get angrier and angrier. In the end, you will either give up trying to be good, or else become one of those people who, as they say, 'live for others' but always in a discontented, grumbling way--always wondering why the others do not notice it more and always making a martyr of yourself. And once you have become that you will be a far greater pest to anyone who has to live with you than you would have been if you have remained frankly selfish.
"The Christian way is different: harder, and easier. Christ says 'Give me All. I don't want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work: I want You. I have not come to torment your natural self, but to kill it. No half-measures are any good. I don't want to cut off a branch here and a branch there, I want to have the whole tree down...Hand over...the whole outfit. I will give you a new self instead. In fact, I will give you Myself: my own will shall become yours.'" (Lewis, p. 1076-1077).
THE REST OF THE LORD
Now let's go back to those early martyrs. How was the yoke easy and the burden light for them? We will let Paul answer for himself:
"Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulations worketh patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope: and hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us" (Rom. 5:1-5).
"And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God" (Rom. 8:28).
"If God be for us, who can be against us?...For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom. 8:31, 38-39).
"Why face life's burdens alone," President Howard W. Hunter asked, "or why face them with temporal support that will quickly falter? To the heavy laden, it is Christ's yoke, it is the power and peace of standing side by side with a God that will provide the support, balance, and the strength to meet our challenges and endure our tasks here in the hardpan field of mortality."
David H. Stern, Jewish New Testament Commentary
C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, quoted in The C.S. Lewis Bible
Camille Fronk [Olson], "The Cost of True Discipleship," BYU Women's Conference, May 1999
Howard W. Hunter, "Come Unto Me," Ensign, November 1990 talk given at BYU Women's Conference, May 1999
Ester Rasband, Confronting the Myth of Self-Esteem
Joseph Fielding Smith, Gospel Doctrine, p. 58