Give Him Your Burdens by Mercy Wheeler

27 "All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. 28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Matthew 11:27-30

 

Anyone who has seen me on campus knows that I have a huge, heavy, floral-patterned backpack I carry wherever I go. Because I'm off campus, I have to carry a lot with me when I go to school. It was a very generous gift from my mother, and despite her loving search for a backpack I could roll behind me, I usually carry it on my back anyway because it's easier when I have a lot to carry.

In this season of exams, life transitions, and anticipation for the future, we can become overwhelmed by burdens of expectation. We give ourselves self-imposed regulations and timelines for our school, our careers, and our relationships that are almost always inevitably changed or broken. This knowledge of potential failure can weigh heavier than the physical weight on my back. Growing up, I would hear the advice to “leave your burdens at the cross”. The literal interpretation of this statement felt detached and empty. I would imagine myself walking to a splintery, empty cross, trying to pull off the burdens I carried to shove up against the base and walk away.

But Jesus does not tell us to leave our burdens at the cross. He tells us to come to him when we are burdened, and he will give us rest. The burdens Jesus describes are the things we perceive to be unknown; feeling troubled for our future and fearful of the consequences of our actions. Jesus offers rest from these burdens in exchange for the yoke he places on us - the work of trusting in his plan for our lives completely. Often, instead of allowing Jesus to give us welcome rest from our burdens, we carry it on anyway because it's easier to trust ourselves even though we are imperfect. In the previous verse, Matt. 11:27, he says “All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” Jesus is in complete control regardless of our circumstances or feelings, and the comfort in his faithfulness to care for us is greater than any earthly plan we can make for ourselves. If you give your faith and trust to him, he promises he will give you rest from the earthly burdens of the world. If you feel heavy this semester, over the summer, or onward, come to Jesus and ask him to relieve you. Tell him the specific worries and expectations you have for yourself, and have faith that he is listening and will give you peace when you trust in his love and control of your future.

Ending Well by The Kammerers

The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray. 8 Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. 9 Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10 Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God's grace in its various forms. 11 If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen. 
(1 Peter 4:7-11 NIV)
As we come to the final weeks of the year, I invite you to consider how you want to finish this year at Mason. What would it look like to "end well"?

Is it hitting the required word count on your final paper? Having enough time to pack your things neatly before driving or flying back home? Getting prepared for that summer internship or job?  Saying goodbye to a professor who made a difference this year in your life? Repairing a relationship with a friend while you still have the chance? Stepping down from a role you don't want to continue? Spending one last afternoon studying on the grassy hillside by Mason Pond? Going to see that museum in DC you kept meaning to visit but never did?

If you can leave well from this year at Mason, you'll be better practiced at ending other things in life, too! Departures are an art that can be done badly or with great meaning... I've found there is nothing more dissatisfying than 'ghosting' out of life experiences, and nothing more rich than saying a worthwhile goodbye.

If you can, and especially if you're a senior, consider taking a goodbye tour around campus. Simply go on a walk around campus, not as a means to get to some class or attend some lecture, but just to connect and to reflect on the places and the people that filled this past year. Ah, there's the Argo Tea where I studied so much accounting! That table in the Globe was where I came to understand God so much better. Oh, there's Professor M's building, where I despaired of my future and cried in her office once. Look, there is that spot where I had such a good conversation with that friend. Southside, oh Southside, how many times I ate at Southside! 
Finally, consider your relationship with God and what that means going forward.  What gifts of God’s grace have I received this year?  How has God been good to me?  Where have I seen God working in my life?  How have I come to know and love God in new ways?  As you reflect on these things, spend some time in prayerful gratitude for all the good you have experienced this past year (even if you’ve also experienced many difficulties).  And ask God what this means for the summer and the fall.  God, how can I best steward the gifts that you have given to me this year?

I pray that as you reflect on the end of this year, you will see the many ways in which you have grown!

Can you admit when you're chilly? by Stephanie Kammerer

Are there there any areas in your life where you feel unable to live into the truth? When there's something false that keeps you from growing into the fullness of who God made you to be?

When I was a child, I was well known in my family for being the child that "never got cold." I would much rather run free with bare arms rather than feel stuffy and bulky, and so whenever my Mom tried to make me put on a sweater, I would protest in every way that I could: 'forgetting' my sweater at home, 'accidentally' leaving it in the car, and always insisting, "But I'm not cold!" 

This worked great except for those times where I was in fact cold but couldn't admit it.  Sometimes there were chilly or rainy days in California when the temperature would drop down into the low 60/50s or even 40s.  But I was so well-known among the extended family for my stubborn refusal to put on a sweater that I felt I couldn't very well acknowledge when I was actually chilly!  I remember a couple rainy days at the park and windy days at the beach when my mother or grandmother would wave at me to come put on a coat and I wanted it badly, but instead I would insist brightly, "No, I'm not cold!" and I would dash away again trying very hard not to let them see me shiver.  I was stuck in my own insistence and too proud to admit the truth.

Even in our adult lives, we can get so tied up in one rigid identity that we feel we cannot give way to the emergence of any greater truth.  Perhaps at college you've gotten into such a habit of going out on the weekends with friends that it's become hard to admit you'd rather stay home with a book.  Or maybe you're tired of being the over-achiever who always takes 6 classes a semester and you wish you could just relax a little.  Or are you the jokester in your dorm, or the computer expert, or the artsy one, or the organized responsible one? Whoever you may be, hold that identity loosely enough that God can keep changing and growing you into the full person God means you to be!

If you can admit when you're chilly, you will find that God gives both sunny bare-armed days and cozy bundled-up days in which to thrive! There is great flexibility to be found in living in the truth.

Spiritual Exercise to Build a Perspective of Humility by Stephanie Kammerer

1. Recognize God's presence.
2. Ask God for what you most deeply desire.
3. Ask yourself: "What has God given me?"

Then go through the following lists slowly.

- God gave me myself; my hands, eyes, nose, taste, sounds, memories, appetites, dreams... (add to the list whatever occurs to you)
What was on God's mind when he gave me these gifts?

- God gave me the world: trees, wind, shadows, waves, mountains; snow, morning, evening... (add to the list)
What was on God's mind when he created these gifts for me?

- God gave me the universe: the moon, sun, stars... (travel as far into the universe as you can imagine)
What was on God's mind when he created these gifts for me?

- Notice how you feel when you picture all of creation as God's gift to you.

A Prayer Exercise by Stephanie Kammerer

Take these steps one at a time. Don't read ahead, don't rush, and use your imagination!

1. Read Luke 6:37-42.  Read it a second time, then put the Bible away.

2. Imagine you live in Jesus' time, and you're planning to meet up with the disciples to listen to Jesus teach.  Before you can leave your house, an acquaintance (with whom you're not getting along) arrives and says, "I hear you're going to spend the day with Jesus.  Can I come with you?
(Notice how you feel.  What do you say?)

3. Imagine that the acquaintance tags along, and asks you what Jesus is like.
(What do you say? How do you feel?)

4. When you arrive at the meeting spot, there are many more people gathered than you were expecting to be there.  It's not easy to get close to where Jesus is standing.
(What do you want to do? What does your acquaintance say?)

5. You see Jesus sit on the ground.  He seems to be inviting everyone to settle down.  Imagine that you approach his group sitting in the shade, and hear Jesus say, "Stop judging, and you won't be judged.  Stop condemning and you won't be condemned.  Forgive, and you'll be forgiven."  Hear whichever words of Jesus you recall from the passage you read.
(How do you feel about what Jesus is saying?)

6. Jesus looks up and sees you.  He calls you and invites you closer.  What do you do? He asks who your friend is.  What do you say?

7.  Jesus says, "I'll show you what someone is like who comes to me, listens to my words, and acts on them.  They're like a person building a house who digs deep to put a foundation on rock - and when the flood comes, the river surges around the house but doesn't shake it because it was well built.  But the one who listens and doesn't act is like someone who builds a house without a foundation - and when the river surges against it, it collapses and is completely destroyed."
(How do you feel about that? Do you say anything to Jesus? Does your friend?)

8. Imagine that your friend has to head home, and ask if you'd walk with them.
(What do you say? How do you feel?)

To end, turn to the Father and ask him for what he most desires for you.

(Exercise from Paul McCarren, SJ)

Prayer: How is it different from talking to yourself? by Stephanie Kammerer

Lately, I've been trying to work out exactly how 'talking' with God differs from the kind of talking we might do with other people or even in our own minds.  

After all, prayer is a kind of communication; we can't help but 'talk' to God through the thoughts and words that we make as humans.  And yet, in prayer we seek to direct our attention to a God who is completely beyond human understanding.  So prayer does involves some 'talk,' but is it only that?

I'll be honest: I don't initially like the chattiness of prayer.  I guess there's a part of me that fears feeling like I'm talking to myself.  After all, I already spend a lot of time in my own head, and it's not the best place to be... Isn't it all too easy to get caught up in circular, petty debates with oneself? Worrying over problems.  Rehashing conversations from earlier in the day.  Second-guessing myself and others. Yikes!  How could any of that be helpful in the spiritual life?! So I have long idealized and tended to prefer more contemplative, wordless forms of prayer with God... surely it is better to aim somewhere beyond myself!

But last week, a spiritual director was encouraging me to be more 'chatty' in conversation with God.  I was on a silent retreat last week where I met daily with a priest to talk about how my prayer was going... and after a couple of days, he noticed that I was moving too quickly from what I really felt about aspects of my life, to what I thought I was supposed to feel.  

And so Fr. Paul made a case for being more chatty and getting into the weeds more with God:  Of course, we sometimes end up having conversations with ourselves! This is part of being human, that we always have an inner dialogue running - "ugh! I'm not sure what to think about this... Did I really mean that? But what about...!?" -  and we can't seem to turn it off.  But the only way past this, is through it.   It's only by airing the inner dialogue that we figure out what we really feel, and can truly turn it over to God.

I think this comes more naturally to some people than others.  For example, my husband Josh is a verbal processor.  He just says things, for better or for worse, and then continues to refine or adjust or reject whatever he just said once he's heard himself say it; so I think Josh finds chatty prayer similar to the way he converses in general.  However, it's hard for me to express something unless I already know what I think or feel, so it is a huge adjustment to try to bring my still-amorphous and still-unformed feelings to God.

Fr. Paul's point to me was that it's only by bringing our messy reality before God that we can make the crucial turn towards God's even deeper reality.  Whether we process it verbally or internally, we all inevitably have some inner dialogue running all the time.  Perhaps today my reality is that I'm frustrated because I really want some things I'm not sure I can have... I want to go back in time and go to a different university!  I want a better academic adviser!  I want God to take care of me!  Fine!  Often it is only in voicing where we're at that we can then turn to the deep realities of faith: God, you are a God who takes care of me.

How about you?  Is your prayer with God pretty talkative, or more contemplative? Do you struggle with your own 'inner dialogue' or have you found a way to helpfully harness it for conversation with God? How does it work for you?