Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Time to Lay Those Burdens Down

The longest river in the world, the Nile, flows 4,130 miles from its headwaters in Africa's mountainous lakes region to the Mediterranean. Sediments from as far away as Rwanda are carried northward by the force of the water as it plummets over falls and sweeps through channels in relentless movement toward the sea. Near the mouth, the river's banks suddenly widen, and the water spreads out, losing energy in the process. As the velocity slows, much of the sediment, after being carried thousands of miles through the desert, drops to the river bottom. Thousands of years of these deposits have resulted in the famous Nile Delta, an enormous landform easily seen from space.

Sometimes it takes slowing down before a burden can be deposited. David knew this fact well. He wrote: "He leads me beside quiet waters. He restores my soul."

I didn't used to be much on slowing down. As I raced through each day, tyranny of the urgent ran my agenda. We were raising four children, and I was working full time, throwing my energy into making my fifth grade classroom a place of wonder and discovery. Even my service given to the church held the same frantic pace. The busyness eventually took its toll on me, and I began to experience physical problems related to stress. Yet slowing down didn't seem like a viable option.

Then I went to seminary. One of the classes I was required to take was on the spiritual disciplines. I was skeptical from the first time I walked in the door. We Biblical Studies majors didn't think much of those counseling classes. Too much about feelings, not enough about exegesis. I took it because I had to. But I wasn't going to like it.

True to expectations, the professor had us doing some outside-the-box things. I would inwardly roll my eyes as he sent us out to meditate or participate in some touchy-feely exercise. Oh, please. Stop wasting my time!! As the class dragged on, I began to count the sessions until it would be over. Then one morning, as the class neared its end, we were told to go find a quiet place in nature and sit there for one hour, just listening to what God had to say to us. An hour? Of listening? Seemed a bit ridiculous to me. I reluctantly collected a notebook to record all of these messages I would supposedly receive and headed out to find a tree.

"OK, here I am," I begrudgingly informed God. "Fire away." My mind was full of the papers I had to write, the books I had to read, the Greek I had to translate. I could use this hour so much more effectively. I could hardly sit still. My frame of mind was anything but conducive to listening.

But as the hour dragged on I tried to relax and appreciate the peace and quiet. I began to perceive the Lord's presence. Not that he hadn't been there all along, mind you. I was just too preoccupied to notice.

I started to bask in the love and grace he has lavished on me. My thoughts went to his greatness and power and faithfulness, his mercies that were new every morning. I began to thank him for loving me and for the blessings he has put into my undeserving life. Suddenly, my former agenda seemed very shallow. I prayed again, this time with an open heart and mind. "Lord, show me what you desire," I pleaded.

God began to invade my thoughts. He wanted my heart more than my efforts. I was carrying too many burdens. It was time to put them down. So I did. I gave him my worries about finishing my studies successfully. I gratefully handed over concerns about my fledgling adult children awkwardly spreading their wings. My fears and anxieties fell off my shoulders as he impressed on me his power and ability to handle it all. And when the hour was up, I walked away feeling freer than I had been for a very long time.

We Americans are busy people. In our drive for productivity, we pick up burdens we don't have time to lay back down. It's time to slow down. Find a quiet corner in your house. Sit down unencumbered by the routine distractions and open your heart to him. As we embark on a new decade, make it a priority to give God the time he deserves. Don't go to him with an agenda. Let him set the pace. And as he leads you beside quiet waters, you will be restored. It's well worth the time.

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