One of the most perplexing and challenging sayings of Jesus in the entire New Testament is found in Matthew 11:28-30. Our Lord says:
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.
If I put one description upon this "yoke," and the effect it has upon a life, I would use the word "imperturbable." No matter what was going on around Jesus he was not disturbed by it. He was not a Stoic, no not at all. We even see him show emotions like grief and anger quite often in the biblical accounts. But he had within himself a deep Spirit-given treasure. By this treasure he could put everything into perspective and respond to things going on around him with deep and abiding (perfect) peace.
One of the Catholic saints, St. Francoise de Sales, was said to be able to "impart peace of soul to those who came to talk to him." I think this is precisely what Jesus is talking about here. Those who take this "yoke" upon them have this gift developed within them over time.
In 1615 St. Francois (Francis in English, but Francois to be clearly distinguished from St. Francis of Assisi) responded to a letter addressed to him about the problem of anger. In giving his counsel he references his own life and then says:
Take reassurance for your spirit for this is not something I haven't experienced myself. I know well that our nature boils with bitterness when we feel ourselves under attack and we let our self-esteem suggest all kinds of bad feelings against those who are doing the attack. With God's help we can try to resist being enraged or at least to give in completely. This then is a good opportunity to practice humility, to confound our enemy with sweetness, and to acknowledge our miserableness.
I thought about this in my morning watch today. As I reflected on my speaking last evening to six young couples in Wheaton I considered how I had told my own story to them. I had been asked to share about my own experience and the writing of my forthcoming book, Your Church Is Too Small (Zondervan, February, 2010). A part of my story includes my sense of personal rejection by friends and the attendant emotions that I dealt with in response to this profound rejection. In trying to tell this story I too often come across as feeling and appearing heroic for my response. This then stirs up inside of me the feelings of "poor me," or of pride because I was willing to do what I thought was right. If this is not bad enough there is usually a sense of justice and anger that then develops. I have been sinned against and I want people to know this story as much as possible. The result, I find all too often, is that people will admire me for who I am and for how I responded to a bad situation. I then feel better about myself in the process, at least until I deal with my Father in private.
Well, as I read and prayed this morning I was rebuked once again in my soul for all of this false modesty and sinfully human self-defense. I need to acknowledge, to use the words of St. Francois, my "miserableness" and "confound the enemy with sweetness." But how?
At the root of all of this is human anger. How do we handle this anger? St. Francois wrote a book titled Introduction to the Devout Life (This link will take you to an on-line free edition of the spiritual classic.) His advice can be summarized in this helpful way:
1. Anger is a normal human reaction when we feel we are being attacked or hurt.
2. We cannot control the behavior of others but we can control our reactions.
3. We must recognize our vanity, our self-centeredness, and our pride more than anything else involved in the situation.
4. We can and must pray as we seek for God's help.
5. Try not to let the behavior, or words, of others make you lose control and if you fail learn to moderate your response.
6. Use such occasions to learn to practice the virtue of humility and thus turn a negative experience into a positive one.
7. Confound your enemy by not reacting in kind but rather by reacting with sweetness, recalling Romans 12:20.
8. Allow your propensity for anger to help you recognize your own limitations.
Tomorrow's Blog: Which is it, humility, or meekness, that is our greatest need in such circumstances? The answer might surprise you.