Desperate Housewives. It’s not a show I watch. I have stumbled across it a couple of times. It’s the title that intrigues me. It tells the story of a suburban neighborhood through the eyes of Mary Alice, who took her life although she lived in a perfect house in a lovely subdivision. From her elevated point of view, she brings us into the lives of her family, friends, and neighbors who have far more problems than solutions. Maybe that part of its connection to our culture and part of the reason for its popularity.
We may not be as conflicted and confused as those in Desperate Housewives, but there are plenty of areas in our lives we need to evaluate. Despite having more ways to stay in touch with each other, our hectic pace cuts away at the quality of our relationships. The pressures and demands on our time include work stress, school activities, and a host of extracurricular activities to name a few. They all seem to have one thing in common—they weaken the relational bonds in our households. They all seem to be things that are beyond our control. We think, “That’s just how life is.”
All of those demands for our time create Desperate Households.
In Making Room for Life: Trading Chaotic Lifestyles for Connected Relationships, Randy Frazee describes how we live:
Many of us have squeezed living out of life. We don’t have the time to soak in life and deep friendships. We’re always running around trying to get to the next event. This presents at least two major problems. First, our busy lifestyle stimulates a toxic disease called crowded loneliness. But there’s an even deeper problem. In our original design we were created with a connection requirement. If this requirement is not met, we will die. The initial thought is that the more financial resources you have, the more likely you are to have a stress-free, relaxing life. In reality, though, studies show that with increased resources comes increased complexity, not simplicity. If they aren’t especially careful, the ones who have more actually have more with which to destroy themselves....
Robert Putnam suggests this formula: For every ten minutes you spend in an automobile, you reduce your available time for relationships by ten percent. If his calculations are accurate, as you look at your social world you may conclude that you not only don’t have any social capital available at the end of the day, but also that you are going into social debt. If you believe that we are created as social beings who require a quantity (and a quality) of people interaction each day to survive, then this means we are dying—not from physical illnesses, but from social illness as well. I’m quite confident that, as historians look back on this era in which we live, one of the marks we will bear is the death of community . . .
So we end up with “desperate households.” We might not be doing many of the things that the characters on Desperate Housewives do, but what drives them and what drives us is often the same: an always busy, hectic pace, loneliness in the crowd, and lack of connection with the people we love.
That’s not the life for which God created us. He created us to thrive on relationships. It’s why Adam needed Eve; and why we need God. It’s why we need each other. Spending time together was a mark of a growing, dynamic New Testament church. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their home, they received their food with glad and generous hearts. (Acts 2:46) They had fellowship with each other every day. We go days without talking to one another.
We say, “We’re just too busy.” And Jesus says, “I came to give you rest.”
Human Expectations Can Hamper Godly Relationships
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 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. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. (Mt 11:28-30) These words were golden to the people to whom Jesus spoke them. In Jesus day, people were weary and burdened, especially in their relationship to God.
In Jesus’ day, the thing that made people weary and burdened was legalistic religion. People were told they had to follow an overwhelming number of religious rules and perform extensive rituals on a regular basis to make themselves acceptable to God. And to make them acceptable in the eyes of others, also known as “good, upstanding people.” So they either wore themselves out trying or just gave up on it all, writing the whole religion thing (and themselves) off as hopeless. Just as in the first-century, Jesus wants to release us from man-made burdens.
The Pharisees had a term for those who were different than they were: am-ha-aretz, which means “people of the land.” If you didn’t catch the cynicism, it’s a derogatory term. The Pharisees had a prejudice against the am-ha-aretz and ostracized them because they were not as “law-abiding.” Religious leaders must always be careful not to place requirements on people that God does not require, and so must churches. Man-made expectations can get in the way of godly relationships. Our expectations of each other can become weary and burdensome. And Jesus never intended for our relationships to be burdensome. He intended them to be encouraging. So I found myself asking a hard questions.
What are some expectations of our church that are burdensome? The expectation of sinlessness creates a pressure cooker. We would never say that we expect each other to be sinless. We would even deny such a statement. I don’t believe in our hearts we expect sinlessness from each other. But we have to be careful our actions don’t speak otherwise. If we aren’t careful, we can come across like the Pharisees and scribes. Remember when they brought to Jesus the woman caught in the very act of adultery? They said, “The law commands us to stone her.” Jesus said, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” I don’t believe we are a “stone-throwing” church. I believe we are a church full of grace which understands the relief of forgiveness. We must allow our spiritual maturity to permit an environment where acknowledging sin is frequent and not irregular. We are caught in an interesting scenario. To expect others to live without sin in unrealistic. Yet, to allow others to excuse, tolerate, or ignore sin is intolerable. So we are challenged with maintaining a level of holiness and spirituality, yet being sympathetic to the struggle of the flesh. If we are silent to the struggle of the flesh, we can unintentionally create an environment which hampers, and even discourages, confession of sin. That is not the environment God intended for His church.
God intended for His church to be a place to confess sin and receive forgiveness, support, and love. James instructs us to confess our sins to one another and pray for one another. (James 5:16) The list of those who struggled with sin and the flesh includes everyone in the Bible, including Jesus. Jesus did not commit sin, but the text is very clear in emphasizing that He was tempted just as we are.
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. (Heb 4:15)
Sinlessness is not a requirement for acceptance. If you are a sinner, if you struggle with spirituality, if you struggle with overcoming the flesh, God’s church is the place for you. In fact, that is why God created His church. So as church members, we must make sure we don’t unknowingly or unintentionally communicate that we expect perfection of others. If God knows and understands that His children struggle with sin, we should be open about the fact that we struggle with sin.
Jesus Came to Give Us Rest
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 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. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Mt 11:28-30)
Jesus came to give us rest.
Only God has the ability to give us rest. Who else in our society claims to have that power?
Rest doesn’t mean kicking back and doing nothing. It means relief from what burdens us and refreshment through the way of living that Jesus offered. The true rest that Jesus offered is a life free from striving to earn God’s favor and mercy. Jesus said you don’t have to earn God’s grace; it is offered through faith in him.
Most people don’t associate following Jesus with rest. For many of us, both in our minds and in our experience, it’s just the opposite. Christianity just adds more effort, work, and things to do to our already overcrowded schedules. But that’s not Christ following as Jesus meant for it to be. He meant for it to bring a person relief from the imperious demands of the things that tend to drive us and strip our lives of meaning, balance, and fulfillment.
A yoke was a wooden collar that fit across the neck of an animal that was used for plowing or pulling a cart. When Jesus said, “take my yoke and learn from me,” it was a euphemism in those days for submitting to someone’s authority as your leader. When an inexperienced farm animal, like an ox, was learning to pull a plow or a wagon, it would be put in a yoke with two slots: one for the inexperienced young animal and another for an older, more experienced animal so the younger one could learn to pull. Jesus said he would be right there beside us, teaching us. He’s the experienced one that we learn from.
Jesus said, “I am gentle and humble of heart.” He is not some whip-cracking taskmaster who will beat us down. His yoke is “easy,” which is better translated “fits well”—it is in accordance with our design. And he said his burden is “light.” Light doesn’t mean it’s a piece of cake. Light means that it is not something that will break you, but will work for you. One scholar put it this way: “It is not that the burden is easy to carry; but it is laid on us in love; it is meant to be carried in love; and love makes even the heaviest burden light.”
It is given. It isn’t something you have to qualify for or earn. Jesus will give you rest, relief, and a new, refreshing way of living. The rest is received voluntarily. His rest is something we enjoy while we submit to being yoked with him. We need to actively participate in his rest. It is not passive. Jesus said “take,” which means we must choose what he wants to give us. He doesn’t force his ways on us. It’s our choice. There is another way to live than in desperate households, even though it feels like we have no choice.
Gregory Smith. (2008). Sermons of Gregory Smith.