Matthew 11: 28-30 – ‘Come to me all you who are weary and heavily burdened and I will give you rest.’
I love this passage of Matthew’s Gospel. Jesus speaks with tenderness to all of us, fully understanding our weakness and frailty and subsequent need for comfort. He calls us to accept His love; to make Him our first port of call when we are troubled. He asks us to let Him give us the help He offers.
Looking at it like that, it seems pretty illogical to think of avoiding such a God. But it is, of course, not quite as simple – the comfort that Jesus offers is not a case of letting us off the hook. God comforts us, but He also convicts us of our sins and calls us to repentance. These are not always easy things to reconcile in the mind, and the division of the two can lead to rather unhelpful mentalities.
I am as culpable of this as anyone. On days when I am feeling disheartened about my failings as a human being, sometimes I try to turn to God for relief and one of the following happens:
- I tell myself that God loves me and understands my human frailty; that I am getting along just fine, and that I shouldn’t be so hard on myself because it’s impossible to be perfect this side of Heaven anyway. *cue mental skipping off into the sunlight, round and round in circles and not progressing at all*
- I tell myself that God loves me and has done so much for me that of course I should be feeling guilty about my failings; in fact, I’m probably not feeling nearly guilty enough. *Further berating about being a Bad Person and not trying hard enough to fight my weaknesses, whilst curling up in despair of ever being perfect*
Both of these approaches are clearly flawed and not exactly helpful. Neither indicate an understanding of what Jesus really offers us. The problem with each of these thoughts is that although they refer to God, they are still very much focused on myself. The first is me trying to avoid feeling guilty, and the latter is me wallowing in guilt – but both are examples of me presuming that I know what God would say to me if I went to Him, rather than actually going to Him, weary and ashamed, to ask for His help.
God does not leave us alone. Not ever. But He does not force Himself upon us. It is our choice to accept the love He offers; our choice to love Him. Our choice to see our helplessness and misery and go running back home, like the Prodigal Son.
I am not fine just as I am, and I must make a constant effort in my everyday life to fight my weaknesses and grow closer in my relationship with God. But at the same time, I can’t save myself – Jesus did that for me, when He took on my sin and died to be the perfect Sacrifice; the offering that I could never give.
When we repent of our sins, we should do so with remorse for our failings and conviction to change, but also joy that Jesus has made it possible for us to turn away from sin. His love freed us from the slavery of sin. The ‘Walk With Me’ booklet that I’m following this Advent put it thus: ‘The Spirit is the one who convicts us of sin and urges us to give our lives to Christ so that we may know the love and mercy of the Father.’
Now, Catholic that I am, I cannot go any further without talking about the Sacrament of Confession – or Reconciliation, which I am trying to remember to call it. For referring to it as ‘Confession’ increases the likelihood of mistakenly making it all about the self, as seen previously, rather than the self and God. It is not the examination of conscience or the listing of those sins that frees us from them, but the Absolution spoken by Jesus through the priest.
The relief that comes after those words have been said is what I think of when contemplating the ‘rest’ that Jesus promises in the Gospels. That liberation, feeling the weight of my sins lifted from my heart, and my soul a clean slate again. I have been picked up, embraced, dusted down, and given encouragement to carry on. To try again, knowing that I am not alone in my efforts.
Going to the Sacrament of Reconciliation is one of the practical ways that we can prepare ourselves for Christmas. The humility and repentance it requires open our hearts to Christ so that He can clean them, heal them, and thus make them ready dwelling-places for Him.
Go to Him. He is longing to give you the help that you so desperately need. And with Him you will find rest.