It’s Time to Trade the Yoke {The Grove: Yoke}

At the beginning of this year I sensed God pressing the pause button on my writing. Not now, He said, not yet. I nodded and said OK. You’ve got stuff in your heart that needs to come out, He said — black, tarry, sticky stuff. I sighed and told Him I knew.

There was a stronghold in my life, a particular set of sins I’d been unequally yoked to. So I stopped writing and started working hard with God instead. Except I wasn’t always working with Him; sometimes I was working against. I complained, I reasoned, I argued. I contended that I was right and He was wrong. I kicked against those goads, oh yes I did.

Until one morning this month when breakthrough began, and the yoke began to crack. Later that day I sensed God lifting the ban on writing, almost as if to say, Ok, now you can start writing again, and THIS is what you need to write about.

Which is why I’m here today, taking a deep breath and walking to the front of the online support group we call Velvet Ashes. It’s why I’m steadying my feet, looking into your lovely virtual faces, and announcing that I’m Elizabeth, and I’ve been yoked to bitterness. I’ve harbored unforgiveness in my heart. I’ve been very, very angry.

If Jesus’ yoke is easy and His burden light, I most certainly haven’t been wearing it. My yoke has been heavy, ponderous, and difficult to bear. My yoke weighed me down; it had me slogging through my days. It had me rehearsing my hurts again and again — the same wrongs, the same offenses, the same injuries, over and over.

My mind was a tempest, an endless hurricane of bitter thoughts swirling round and round but never quite reaching the calm in the storm, never reaching the place where I could acknowledge that the injustices happened but where my heart would no longer be troubled by them.

I wanted to forgive. I wanted to obey. But I wanted to feel it, too, and I just didn’t. I kept repenting of my unforgiveness. I kept speaking the words “I forgive” over the situation, but no warm fuzzy feelings followed. I was still angry and bitter. I was still unforgiving.

And underneath all that unforgiveness, you know what I found? Pride. A proud heart that said I deserved better. A proud heart that expected more from life, more from God, more from the humanity He created. My yokes were heavy, my yokes were many. My yokes were almost too much to bear.

Then one morning I asked God how He sees my offender. This is how He answered my prayer: I’m your Father. I’m a good Father, and I feel the same tenderness towards you that I feel towards the inflictors of some of your deepest pain. They are my Beloved, same as you.

It was almost too painful to hear, but I knew it was true. Tears began streaming down my face. They poured over my jagged, sinful yokes. They sliced through the wood of my petrified heart. Love trickled in and loosened my yokes.

I wanted to wriggle out of them and leave them there in the field of my past forever, but I knew I’d probably face bitter thoughts again. I’d probably feel indignation rising up within me again. And I’d probably be tempted to slip those burdens back onto my shoulders.

I also knew this moment with God was a turning point for me. I knew I could go back to the day God showed me His merciful heart for the people who’d wronged me, and I knew that when I did, I’d be able to once more lay down my yoke of sin and ask for His light and easy yoke instead.

I’m calmer now – almost supernaturally so – and I’m no longer stuck in the vortex of my own hatred. Still, I’m waking up each morning and asking God to remove any residual yoke of bitterness. I’m asking Him to remove the remnants of unforgiveness and pride. I’m releasing people from the debt of repaying me and from the expectation of apologizing.

I’m standing amongst the wreckage, taking my cues from the parable of the unforgiving servant, and absorbing the damages myself. I’m remembering, through tears and thankful smiles, that these injuries don’t tell the whole story of my life, a story that from beginning to end brims with the goodness of God’s love.

It’s always an unequal partnership when we bind ourselves to sin. The yoke of sin is heavy. It’s too much weight for our feeble souls to carry. Unforgiveness, bitterness, pride – these are my yokes. They weigh me down, they chafe against my neck, they break upon my skin. They steer my life toward the pit. But these days, I’m exchanging them for a better yoke, an easier and lighter one.

There’s only one Person who can give me that kind of yoke, and His name is Jesus.

What sins have you been unequally yoked to? How might God want to gently break those yokes today?

::

This is The Grove.  It’s where we gather to share our thoughts, our words, and our art.  So join us in the comments.  Show us your art work by adding an image. And link up your own blog posts on this week’s prompt “Metaphor”.  Click here for details and instructions. 

34 Comments

  1. Michele Womble March 3, 2016

    Elizabeth – I’ve got to run but I wanted to say thank you for “taking a deep breath and walking to the front” – and sharing.

    I’ll be back in a few hours.

      1. Elizabeth March 4, 2016

        Well thank you for being such caring listeners, Amy and Michele. I love you both!

        1. Michele Womble March 8, 2016

          We love you, too!  🙂  (I felt free to speak for Amy, as well.)

    1. Michele Womble March 3, 2016

      I’m back.

      I really really like the imagery of being unequally yoked to our sins.

      Let me rephrase that.

      I don’t LIKE it, because it’s an ugly picture, but it’s so…apt. Because it’s to true.  I haven’t tended to think of a struggle with sin or even a stronghold as… a yoke.  But it is.  Yikes.

      Rehearsing hurts again and again – getting angrier and angrier – unfortunately, I have SO been there.

      Asking God how He sees your offender.  That was brave.

      I love His answer to you.

      It’s not what I would have expected.

      I would have expected it to go like this:  “I’m your Father.  I’m a good Father, and I feel the same tenderness towards the inflictors of some of your deepest pain that I feel towards you…”

      It’s subtle, I know, but to me it’s a big difference.  In English, word order – and phrase order – is really important.  And He put you first, as if you had asked how He sees you.  Then He turns it around (the order) in the last sentence.  Because, of course, He’s God, and He knows what you asked, but…

      It seems He wanted to emphasize the part about His heart being equally tender to you, while He is telling you that it’s equally tender to them.

      To remind you of His merciful heart toward you.

      Because for me, at least, I think that would have been – is sometimes – my real question. When I am hurt and angry, to the point of bitterness, in the end it’s toward Him, because…well, He let it happen – and even if I’m not bitter toward Him, there’s still that question…I might not exactly say, “Am I not as favored? as blessed? as loved?” But somewhere inside me is the cry, and it made itself known again as soon as I saw how He had worded it, the cry:

      love ME

      love ME

      love ME…

       

      1. Elizabeth March 4, 2016

        Well to be honest Michele, it felt like of brave, even at the time, to ask this of God!

        I had not thought about the difference in the word order here, but yes the answer and the feelings it invoked were kind of surprising. Not sure what I was expecting God to say when I asked, but it was a deeper kind of realization than I’d had before (because yes, gulp, I have struggled with bitterness and anger before. . . .). It was exactly as you say here, realizing I need just as much tenderness and forgiveness as “those other people.”

        And like you, I have definitely slung it all back at God before, angry at Him for letting these types of things happen. At the beginning of this process I would wake up each morning and complain to God. I would rage at Him. And only then would I pray for Him to help me do the right thing. Great example of Christ-followership huh??!

        I also read a book about conquering bitterness while I was going through this. The book really helped show me that God has given us free will, and it’s not His fault when others hurt us. He let them have the choice, yes, and they sometimes choose to hurt me, but I shouldn’t blame God for their sin. That’s a hard truth to accept though, and this was definitely a process, not an instantaneous healing (though I sometimes wish I could get more of those, ha!).

        Thank you so much for your comments. They’re always so rich and deep and have me chewing on the ideas for a while. I loved your poem for today’s link-up too. 🙂

        1. Phyllis March 4, 2016

          What book did you read?

           

          And I also thank you for writing this. I hope I’m just a step behind you with forgiveness and throwing off the yoke of bitterness.

          1. Elizabeth March 4, 2016

            Phyllis — It was called “Chaos Beneath the Shade,” which I know at first glance seems like a strange title for something about bitterness and forgiveness. But the author Tracey Bickle goes into a tree/root metaphor, so it makes sense in context 🙂

            I picked it up at a conference right before New Year’s in the States. I knew I had a problem even though I wasn’t quite ready to tackle it. But I figured the book would help, and it did.

            Grace and peace to you on this journey — and know that many of us are right there with you! We don’t like to admit this sin; it doesn’t sound like a “Christian” enough problem to have. But more and more I’m convinced it’s actually a universal problem, something we all relate to. And Tracey says as much in the book, that we all experience injustices (albeit to different degrees) and we all have to combat anger, rage, and unforgiveness. (Incidentally, the preacher I mentioned below, who preached about pride and unforgiveness, also said that all of us in that room had experienced hurt and disappointment; I tend to forget this and end up nursing only my own wounds.) Bickle uses the story of Cain and Abel as a theme throughout the book, which I thought was really novel, but also really, really good.

            (Now how’s that for a short answer to your question!?)

          2. Michele Womble March 8, 2016

            I haven’t heard of the book but I’ll be looking into it.  Maybe a good book club book?

          3. Elizabeth March 9, 2016

            Michele — yes it would be a good book to go through with a small group. It’s meant to be worked through slowly. It’s got a lot of meat.

  2. Patty Stallings March 3, 2016

    Elizabeth, I so admire the quality of your obedience – pressing the pause button to allow His truth and grace to transform your heart in a painful part of your story.  And I am so overwhelmed by the tender lovingkindness of God as you allowed Him to love you in the broken places.  Thank you for sharing here.

    1. Elizabeth March 4, 2016

      Yes God has been so good to me! In the last few months, yes, but also over my entire life. I just see His faithfulness written all over my life, using everything good and bad that’s ever happened as an opportunity to draw me closer to Him. I’m in a definite state of thanksgiving over that. 🙂 I should probably tuck that thankfulness away and bring it out the next time pain has me doubting God’s goodness again. . . .

      Thank you for your encouragement here today 🙂

  3. Dorette March 3, 2016

    Elizabeth, thank you so much for sharing your words and I’m glad your ‘ban on writing’ has been lifted with this yoke, because as you choose to let go – and share your story with others – it doesn’t only encourage us to let go too.. it shows us how.

    1. Elizabeth March 4, 2016

      I’m glad the ban’s been lifted too, and I’m glad this story helped you today. 🙂 Here’s to all of us throwing off our yokes of sin and instead running to Jesus. . . together.

  4. Jennifer Ott March 3, 2016

    Our power and Internet are soon to go this morning, but thank you.  We are in a situation now where I hear the siren call of bitterness.  All my emotions want to pick up that yoke because it looks like it would be light and easy (oh, the deception!).  The yoke of pride and reputation (disguised as “righteous indignation” or “desire for truth”) has been weighing me down.  Thank you for your honesty and asking the same hard questions of me.

    1. Elizabeth March 4, 2016

      Wow, yes! Bitterness is, as you say, a “siren call.” And it does look so light and easy — oh yes, the deception!

      Oh pride, my nemesis! It most certainly does masquerade as righteous indignation and desire for truth. I hear ya sister!! And I have to fight it too. In fact as we returned from furlough, I already knew I needed to work on this, and I (providentially) heard a sermon talking about pain and unforgiveness, and how a lot of times lurking underneath that pain and anger and unforgiveness is pride. I thought to myself, no, not again! I don’t have to battle that one again do I? Because it had been years since I’d really done hard battle with pride. So I just sort of slid those statements to the back of my mind, because they were uncomfortable, but then as I dug deeper into the well of forgiveness last month, I really did encounter the sin of my pride. Yep, I really do have sin. Even as I rehearse all the sins committed against me, I really am culpable for my own sin!

      There’s a concept in counseling that people stay in unhealthy patterns and unhealthy systems until the cost of staying in the unhealthy behavior outweighs the cost of getting out of it. I think this has been true for me. It’s easy to let bitterness fester quietly for awhile and only pay serious attention to it when it starts getting in the way of normal everyday functioning. I’m glad God got my attention, and glad I gave Him the space to work on me, but perhaps we can both pray that next time we will see the Siren call of bitterness for what it really is, sooner.

      Blessings to you in this difficult season. May He give you the determination and strength to lay down whatever is weighing you down, and may you begin to walk light and easy again. Hugs!

  5. Emily Smith March 4, 2016

    “I wanted to forgive. I wanted to obey. But I wanted to feel it, too, and I just didn’t. I kept repenting of my unforgiveness. I kept speaking the words “I forgive” over the situation, but no warm fuzzy feelings followed”

    Again. Again, Elizabeth, you write straight to the heart of my story. The bitterness, anger, and pride. No matter how much I wanted to forgive, it wasn’t there. These last couple weeks something changed. Forgiveness and healing began to flow through my heart. Finally.

    I knew something deep in me had broken free. Your words created a picture of that change. Thank you for your courage.

    1. Elizabeth March 4, 2016

      In this fallen world, oh how we fight to make our hearts and minds agree with each other, and with God. I totally hear what you’re saying; it’s my struggle too.

      Thanking God with you that His love is flowing through you and that you’ve been able to forgive and begin healing. It’s such a wonderful feeling, to be so light and free!

      I know you’re getting ready to transition out of your current location. What kindness and mercy God is giving you, to help you sort through these messy emotions before you bid your farewells. Getting free of bitterness, and preparing your heart to say goodbye well, that’s like a double blessing from God. 🙂

      1. Emily Smith March 4, 2016

        A double blessing , indeed. One I would have counted impossible even a month ago.

        1. Elizabeth March 4, 2016

          That’s so awesome! I love it when God does the “impossible”!

  6. Brittany March 4, 2016

    Your vulnerability has challenged me and encouraged me. Thank you for sharing. You’ve got me thinking if my own yoke.

    1. Elizabeth March 4, 2016

      Thanks for your comment, Brittany! I love how these types of conversations can help us “spur one another on to love and good deeds.” They’re so important, and I’m so glad Velvet Ashes facilitates this type of community 🙂

  7. Leslie Verner March 4, 2016

    “Tears began streaming down my face. They poured over my jagged, sinful yokes. They sliced through the wood of my petrified heart. Love trickled in and loosened my yokes.” I love the imagery in this.  And it’s a good, but hard reminder that we can’t muster up enough will power to change ourselves, but really have to wait for the supernatural power of God to do the difficult work in our hearts and make them soft again.  It’s usually not fast enough for us!  I really appreciate your obedience in waiting on Him and in listening to Him when He seemed to be telling you not to write.  Thank you for sharing the raw parts of your story–it helps to free us from our own areas of slavery.

    1. Elizabeth March 4, 2016

      “It’s a good, but hard reminder that we can’t muster up enough will power to change ourselves, but really have to wait for the supernatural power of God to do the difficult work in our hearts and make them soft again.” SO TRUE. We can’t do this thing. We can only give God the space to do it.

      “It’s usually not fast enough for us!”  Again, SO TRUE. Sometimes we’re in a hurry to get to the results without putting in the time, in a rush to get to the fruit without enough abide.

      Thanks for your comment Leslie, and for your own blogs and linkups!

  8. Rachel March 5, 2016

    You’re brave!  Thank you for being brave, Elizabeth, and sharing so openly with us.

    The thing I specifically appreciated hearing this morning was how you were listening to God concerning your writing.  I just really like hearing that people do that!  I love to write and have done nothing much with it…yet.  I’m really trying to hear God on this and I’m not exactly sure what He’s saying yet.  Thank you for being an example of someone who listens and follows in this area!

    1. Elizabeth March 7, 2016

      Rachel, I love that you’re wanting to listen to God in your writing! He will surely honor that desire. I’m praying for you to discern His voice and His leading in this. And remember that if you’re a writer, because that’s who you are and who God made you to be, you’ll always be a writer and you’ll always be writing, even if it’s not for a large audience, even if it’s just for the audience of One, in the same way I refrained from writing publicly but continued pouring out my heart to God in my journal at the beginning of the year.

      So I encourage you to take the time to write to, with, and for God, even as you wait on God to let you know how and with whom to share your writing. Looking forward to seeing what God does with you in this!

      1. Michele Womble March 8, 2016

        I had written a note to myself to ask you if the “ban” on writing had included journaling, because I would have had trouble working through something if I couldn’t write my way through it (journaling, I mean.) So I’m glad you mentioned that here.

        Good advice – “to write to, with and for God”.

        Rachel – I’m with Elizabeth, looking forward to seeing what God does!

         

        1. Elizabeth March 9, 2016

          Yes, I would also find it hard to work through my issues without prayer-journaling through them! Glad I was able to clarify that!

      2. Rachel March 17, 2016

        Sorry for my late reply, Elizabeth.  But I wanted to let you know how much I appreciated your encouraging words concerning writing.  Thank you for your prayers, and especially your advice to write to, with and for God as I continue to listen.  It is such an important truth that even just writing for God is important.  It was good for me to hear, so thank you! 🙂

  9. Susan March 5, 2016

    This is beautiful and gives me a much better understanding of the meaning of “yoked”. Thank you!

    1. Elizabeth March 7, 2016

      I’m glad it blessed you Susan. Thanks for taking the time to let me know!

  10. Anna March 5, 2016

    Such good imagery.  Thank you for sharing this so openly here.  Bitterness and resentment are a default path for me that I really have to fight.  I think some of it is because that’s what I learned growing up and started doing subconsciously.  But even once I knew I didn’t want to do that, I still have that tendency.  In one situation, I knew I was struggling against those feelings, and I kept praying that God would help me see the people through His eyes.  It was a long time before it happened, but one day as I was praying, He gave me a very clear image, that helped me understand the place the other people were coming from, and made it easier not to take things as personal hurts.  (Really it was 2 clear pictures one after the other, because there were 2 people involved.)

    1. Elizabeth March 7, 2016

      Anna, I so relate to your comment here. “Bitterness and resentment are a default path for me that I really have to fight.” Yes — true for me and true for others too — there are more of us struggling with it that we care to admit. “That’s what I learned growing up” — yes again, because so many of us struggle with it, and we pass it on in our churches and in our families. “Even once I knew I didn’t want to do that, I still have that tendency” — also yes  — our sin nature strikes again. And as my mom said in her FB comment about this post, God knew from the very beginning we would have this temptation, as He tells the people in Exodus 15 that He’s the healer of their bitterness.

      But mostly I love the story you tell about beseeching God to show you these people in His eyes and how it took a long time but finally God answered. How sweet and relieving those images must have been! You’d been waiting a long time to receive them. Thank you for sharing this. It’s the kind of thing I think we all have to ask of God when dealing with painful interpersonal relationships, and I love hearing when God came through for people like this!

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