But a verse or so further along it says, "My yoke is easy to bear and my burden is light." And this has been puzzling for me as I see the struggles of new Christians against old patterns and habits, the horrors of Christian Martyrs suffering around the world and the financial, family and health challenges of kind Christians in my own community.
Eventually I had to do some praying and reading and listening, but this verse has come to be as dear to me as the first. The verse between held the key for me: "Put on my yoke and learn from me. I am Gentle and Humble."
I understand from this that Christ does not expect us to jump through hoops and arrive at the "believer" door on our own, because however could we do that? Instead, Christ says to us with such tenderness, "I am here beside you, longing for a conversation where I can begin to teach you new ways of living that are ever so much less painful than trying to rely on your own capacities. You do not need to "believe" to start the conversation. You do not have to "find" forgiveness, or hope or "be a better person" because it is already yours with no greater requirement than to seek Me."
That's it ... start a conversation directly with God or with someone you identify as living as a follower of Christ (neither a 'perfect person' nor even necessarily a 'church member', but rather someone whose love and kindness reflects an unusual way of living for which they take no personal credit) or listen to Christian music in the car to consider if their art speaks to you, or volunteer to work with folks who have substantially fewer options than you do, or read the Bible or even a book on reading the Bible, or just find a quiet place and say, "Hey, God, if you are there and you care about me, I'd like to learn about that": ... then be at rest for a bit.
God does not expect us to be wise and loving and kind and generous and healed in ways beyond our own capacity without God's own support, love, instruction, generosity and ability, pouring every good thing that we were created to be and enjoy and do into our lives to the extent we welcome it.
Wise and honest people disagree on a multitude of things written in the Bible, in interpreting with a more or less legalistic or more or less "this is how I understand it as the only way" ideas. But God does not require us to seek the approval of anyone or set traps for us. God comes, "Come to me." God did not say, "Go to the temple," or "Go the the priest." or "Complete the 12 Labors of pre-acceptance training." God says, "Come to me."
Oh, how God loves you, right now, today, whatever your mistakes, whatever your sorrows, whatever your hopelessness, whatever your burdens. Won't you take a moment to listen....
Matthew 11: 28-30 “Come to me, all you who are struggling hard and carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest. Put on my yoke, and learn from me. I’m gentle and humble. And you will find rest for yourselves. My yoke is easy to bear, and my burden is light.”