Who Has the Reins?
The prayer leader invited my group to close our eyes and to imagine standing next to a horse along with Jesus. You will embark on a leisurely stroll together upon the horse. First, she instructed, mount the horse. At that point, she paused and asked us to note where we were sitting on the horse with respect to Jesus.
Were you behind or in front of Jesus. Who had the reins? Gulp! With my eyes closed, still deep in this visualization exercise, I saw very clearly — I had the reins.
We took turns sharing the results of our visualization exercise. I quickly learned no one else except me had grabbed the reins. The outcome of this exercise was very telling. I want Jesus along for the ride, but I have a really hard time letting go of control.
My prayer is often, “My will be done.” I lack trust in God’s plans for my life. I struggle to see the truth. God’s will for me is always for my good, and allowing myself to rest in that knowledge will always lead me to peace.
I wonder how many times a day Jesus shakes his head in dismay at how difficult I make things on myself by not allowing him to take the reins. How can I believe he is the Son of God, which I do, yet be incapable to trust him completely with my life?
Back in the Saddle
A year later, I found myself back on retreat sitting quietly in Eucharistic Adoration with a Bible App. I prayed, flipping through the pages reading a passage here and there, just waiting for the Holy Spirit to inspire me. My eyes fell upon Matthew 11:28-30, and I read, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, 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.”
The words the Bible App had capitalized caused me to pause. Did Jesus have to resort to yelling to get my attention? The words, “rest for my soul” cut to the marrow of my bones. How lovely freedom from my burdens would be! Cue Jesus’ facepalm as I continue to miss the point. Then I remembered the imaginary horse ride and my hands gripped tightly around the reins. Jesus whispered into my heart, “You can have peace and rest, even joy Allison, let go of the reins!”
The Multifaceted Yoke
I pondered what exactly could be this easy yoke Jesus had for me for the remainder of my retreat. What was it precisely? How could I possibly take it upon myself if I had no idea what I was taking? So, like everything else I lack understanding in, I googled it. How did I ever survive before Google? Google dictionary informed me that a yoke is “a wooden cross-piece that is fastened over the necks of two animals and attached to the plow or cart that they are to pull.”
The oxen are yoked together to lighten their work burden. Jesus and I could be tandem workhorses plowing through the world’s trials and troubles. That would surely lighten my burden. However, I sensed there was more to be learned. So back to Google I went. This second research attempt yielded a picture of a single wooden yoke with reins. Not going to lie, when I saw the reins attached to the yoke in the picture, I laughed out loud.
As I gazed upon the image of the single yoke, I felt Jesus softly whisper into my heart — put my yoke upon you, let me direct your steps, so you can learn from me. Trust me to lead you to pastures of rest and peace. I am trustworthy. My yoke is indeed easy because it is one constructed out of pure love of you.
Taking On the Yoke of Jesus
Just a few days later, I was speaking with a dear friend, who also happens to be a Scripture scholar. I shared my experience with Matthew’s Gospel in Adoration, my yoke research, and my resulting a-ha moments. She then informed me of another, more ancient meaning, of “yoke.”
In the time of Jesus’ earthly life, when a person took on the teaching of the rabbi, it was said that they took upon his yoke. The single yoke made perfect sense now. Yes, it was important I trust him and let him guide my way. To stop praying, “my will be done,” and open my heart to, “Thy Will be done.” The easiest way to accomplish this taking of his yoke is to listen to Jesus (particularly in the Gospels) and to follow his ways; which he tells us are easy and light. I am once again reminded that God does not ask the impossible.
Jesus is, “the Way, the Truth, and the Life,” however we are told the way is “how narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few.” Way to encourage us, St. Matthew! Instead of focusing on the narrow and the difficult way it clearly can be – no arguing with that – I want to focus on how we can widen this road.
It Can Widen When We:
- Accept that despite all we have, without Christ we have nothing;
- Open our hearts to experience Jesus not just on Sundays for an hour but every day;
- Share moments with Jesus in our everyday, ordinary life;
- Invite others to come and really know Jesus.
Maybe I Should Explain
First, it is easy to think that our lives are as good as they are going to get especially if we have a comfortable life and enjoy good health. It is also easy to fall into a mindset of resignation if things aren’t going well or we are not well, to chalk it up to that’s how life is, or to circumstances beyond our control. Faith in Jesus Christ is much more than a lucky charm or a wishing well — knowing Christ is making a new friend, one that has the words of wisdom to bring you hope, peace, joy, and love in every situation. How could you not want a friend like that?
Second, never assume that the person in the pew beside you or dropping off their child for religious education actually know Christ as a friend. Baptized as a baby, drifted away and returned but took over ten years to realize my Catholic faith consists of way more than a perfect attendance record to flash at the pearly gates.
The Grace Trifecta
The Catholic faith includes beautiful and powerful prayers such as the Rosary, hymns, and litanies of Saints, just to name a few. An abundant gift of grace available in the sacraments which offer an opportunity to heal in Reconciliation, strength in the Eucharist, and courage in Baptism/Confirmation, again just to name a few. The Scriptures, the Living Word of God, guides my path and brings my dialog, with the Triune God, to a whole new level.
Taking upon the yoke of Jesus, I have learned, is not just one simple act. It is a series of discoveries and accepted invitations. For me, it was letting go of the tight rein of control I insist on having over my life. It was learning to trust in Jesus’ teachings shared with me in prayer, sacrament, and Scripture. The light and easy yoke of surrendering myself to the good that is the Will of God for me, allowing Jesus to guide my steps and direct my path.