Yesterday in Sunday School we discussed Matthew 11: 28–30, among other things.
Side note: Having never really attended adult Sunday School for any length I realized that I have no idea what the adult classes are called. And I only realized that yesterday when a young woman in our ward, who recently returned from her mission, popped into the room and asked me, "Is this Gospel Doctrine?" and I said tentatively, "Ummm...yes..."
That sounded right, but really how different are the names "Gospel Doctrine" and "Gospel Essentials." Isn't doctrine essential? What class was I in? The right one, surely, whatever one that was. Why don't we have singing time? I sure miss singing time. I'm happy to not be wrangling children for once but I do miss singing time.
"Oh, there's my mom!" she said. "Looks like this is the right place."
So, it is called Gospel Doctrine.
Matthew 11:28–30 says:
28 ¶Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.We were just getting to the good part when I had to go check my blood sugar (nine more weeks; who's counting?) so when I came back in I was happy to hear that Mosiah 24 had been mentioned, a beautiful story where the faithful people in bondage—Alma and his people—prayed to God for deliverance and the answer to their prayer was, essentially, "not yet." But, the Lord also promised that he would ease their burdens—not by taking them away, but by giving them strength to bear them.
29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.
30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
15 And now it came to pass that the burdens which were laid upon Alma and his brethren were made light; yea, the Lord did strengthen them that they could bear up their burdens with ease, and they did submit cheerfully and with patience to all the will of the Lord.I find that scripture so easy to relate to because how often has a trial ever been completely vaporized before my eyes? Like, never. But I do find that I'm stronger than I think I am and that I'm able to get through trials that I didn't necessarily think I'd be able to handle, and I think that's because I'm yoked with the Lord. Or at least trying to be.
One woman mentioned that we need to be "equally yoked." When we think of that we typically think of putting two equal things together, and that was essentially what the woman said as well—you yoke two oxen of approximate size and strength together and they magically can do amazing things. I nodded because we've all heard that a billion times, but the more I thought about it, the more I found it...wrong.
I am not equal to the Lord. At all.
This morning I searched "equally yoked" on the church website and up popped a beautiful description Elder Boyd K. Packer gave in 1971 of what it means to be equally yoked (incidentally this was also quoted in General Conference in October 2013 by Elder Edward Dube, but I had forgotten hearing it).*
Elder Packer tells of attending a county fair with his wife, and being drawn in to an oxen pulling contest. He says, "I noticed a well-matched pair of very large, brindled, blue-gray animals. They were the big-boned, Holstein, Durham-cross, familiar big blue oxen of seasons past. Because of their size, of course they were the favorites." But they didn't even place in the contest. Much to Elder Packer's surprise, "a small, nondescript pair of animals, not very well matched for size, moved the sledge all three times," and ended up winning the contest.
He found someone more in the know about oxen than he was and asked him how the awkward pair had managed to win when the seemingly well-matched pair hadn't even managed to move their load.
The man explained to Elder Packer that although "the big blues were larger and strong and better matched for size than the other team....the little oxen had better teamwork and coordination. They hit the yoke together. Both animals jerked forward at exactly the same time and the force moved the load.
"One of the big blue oxen had lagged a second or pushed a second too soon...and the force was spent in a glancing blow. The yoke then was twisted and the team jerked to one side and the sledge hardly moved."
With this new knowledge of what it means to be equally yoked, Elder Packer says, "'And thus we see' that size and strength are not enough. It takes teamwork as well."
I don't have to be an ox as big and as strong as the Lord; I just have to be willing to take up his yoke and learn of him, submit to his will, and so forth.
I was thinking about that yesterday—about how we manage to yoke ourselves to the Lord because that seems like a rather lofty thing to do. But then I realized that the simple answer, perhaps, is through a baptismal covenant. We're not being pretentious in yoking ourselves to the Lord; we're invited to yoke ourselves to the Lord and, to me, baptism represents this yoking.
Simply put, "When we were baptized...we promised to take upon ourselves the name of Jesus Christ, always remember Him, keep His commandments, and serve Him to the end."
Mosiah 18:8–9 details the baptismal covenant further:
8 ...and now, as ye are desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people, and are willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light;When we are baptized we take upon ourselves the name of the Lord and promise to do his will—I would call that being yoked. But there's still a lot of work to do in learning how to work together as a team. I think following the promptings of the Holy Ghost would count as "hitting the yoke together," so to speak. And of course, anything else that helps us learn of the Savior helps us know how and when to hit that yoke—reading the scriptures, praying, going to church, and all those other Sunday School answers.
9 Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death, that ye may be redeemed of God, and be numbered with those of the first resurrection, that ye may have eternal life...
As far as his burden being easy, I think, not only does he help us pull our own burdens—making them light for us by giving us additional strength and not by removing them—but when we pull his burden by keeping our baptismal covenants and, for example, mourning with those who mourn, we're given additional blessings.
I thought of The Sermon on the Mount and the Beattitudes, which we studied not too long ago in Sunday School (Gospel Doctrine, to be exact).
"Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted" could just as easily be rendered "blessed are they that mourn [with others]: for they shall be comforted."
Part of taking the yoke of the Lord is being willing to help make the burdens of others lighter. We mourn with others, we're merciful to others, we're helpful to others. And the beautiful thing is that when we're baptized into the church we're family so everyone else has covenanted to share our burdens as well, which certainly helps make them lighter. So, the promise of being comforted if you mourn is (or should be) a self-fulfilling contract.
When we're all looking out for each other, when we're all pulling at the yoke at the same time, when we're trying to live a life of compassion and mercy and service—that's when the burden is easy, that's when we're equally yoked to the Lord, working with him and on his schedule rather than doing things our own way. That's Zion, right?
I think that's probably harder said than done. I certainly think it's a life-long pursuit, but I also think it's a worthy one.
Naturally, when we yoke ourselves to the Lord and take his burden, he also takes on our burdens.
Sister Linda K. Burton, the General Relief Society President, gave a message at Women's Conference on May 2, 2014 where she said, "I am slowly learning that as we move along life’s path, the Lord gives us burdens to carry so that we might yoke ourselves to Him. Yoking ourselves to Him not only helps us develop the spiritual muscle needed to get us through our current trials but also blesses us with His enabling power, which helps us face the future trials that surely await us."
Oh, I also love when she says this: "He knows us individually and perfectly and customizes our mortal experiences to help us grow into our very best selves—if we will let Him. He is the ultimate personal trainer! I find that as I look back on the tests and trials the Lord has customized for me, I realize that some of my greatest joys have followed my darkest moments."
I love the idea that yoking ourselves to him is how we learn of him, that allows us to experience trials in order to shape us into who we need to be, that we're never doing things alone, and that joy follows sorrow.
The Savior is, as we learn in Isaiah 53, "a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief." In addition to his own mortal woes—because his life was not easy—"he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows...and with his stripes we are healed."
I do my best to "submit cheerfully and with patience to all the will of the Lord," but sometimes being cheerful is hard. Sometimes, like we discussed in Relief Society yesterday, we're like the Jaredites and their barges—it's dark and we can't breathe—but even in the suffocating darkness we can find light and air by turning to the Lord, and if not then surely after the darkness there will be light.
It's okay to have those "dark moments," because the joy will come. That's the promise the Lord has given—we "are that we might have joy" but in order to feel that joy we also need to feel sadness.
Some of the most faith-filled times of my life—my most hopeful times—were when things were so hard that I cried everyday, sometimes multiple times, and found it hard to just be not sad let alone to be outwardly happy. And I'm okay with that because eventually I hope that I will experience "joy as exceeding as was my pain!"
And it's all through the enabling power of the atonement and being yoked to the Lord that joy and comfort is possible, which...is awesome.
* There's also this article from the the September 2013 Ensign, which says that "Custom fitting each side allows oxen of unequal size or strength to pull together without one being dragged by the other."