Andrea Sommers on yokes for Salt & Iron:

When Your Yoke is Hard and Your Burden Heavy: part one

I spent this last year planning my wedding, which is to say, I spent the year chronically busy and stressed. I don’t think I was alone in that stress; almost everyone I know was similarly busy with major life events. Maybe it was because we were trying to fit all of the previously postponed events into our schedules as Covid restrictions calmed down a bit. Maybe we were just happy to go to any and every newly scheduled event because we were afraid that Covid restrictions would come back at any minute and shut it all down again. Whatever the reason, it seems that everyone I encounter lately have all been living at their max stress capacity for a while now, and we are edging on, if not already at, the point of burnout.

When I’m stressed, I tend to be a “hunker down until it’s done” kind of person. I let everything—socializing, eating, chores, etc.—take the back seat to the main source of stress. It was in this state of consternation during the beginning of the wedding planning year that I noticed the word “yoke” over and over again in my thoughts, prayers, reading, and conversations. God may have been trying to reach me with a message about my current state of stress, but like Jonah fleeing to Tarshish, I tried to push it to the side. For one thing, I had enough stuff to do already. I didn’t want a message from the Lord, giving me even more work or things to think about.

The Hitching Assembly

One familiar Bible verse kept coming up despite my best efforts to outrun it:

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.

Matthew 11:28–30, ESV

I sure was weary and heavy-laden, and an easy yoke and light burden sounded pretty appealing, but it was that middle part that kept nagging at me—the “take my yoke upon you” bit. I was already full up on my own yoke. I didn’t have time, room, or energy to take up Christ’s, too. He had to know that, right? Why was He trying to add to my stress?

I kept trying to push Him away, but God didn’t stop trying to reach me in all the ways He does. Finally, I got fed up and started looking into yokes, trying to figure out what message to glean from this nagging word. The answers I found, rather than make me feel more trapped and overwhelmed, instead brought me peace and joy. Now I share them with you, in hopes that you too will find peace, joy, and comfort in the midst of your own stress.

Before researching, I thought that a yoke was just the large wooden plank that went over the shoulders of an animal. This was partly right, but mostly wrong on two fronts. First, though a yoke can rest on a singular animal, it most commonly joins a pair of animals, usually oxen. Second, a yoke (specifically a “neck yoke”) is made up of the wooden beam that sits on the necks of the oxen, but that’s not all it is.

The yoke is actually made up of several different parts: 1) the beam, which contains the neck seats and belly of the yoke; 2) bows and bow pins; and 3) the hitching assembly, made up of the staple, pole ring, and hook. It’s also important to remember that one uses a yoke to pull a load or do a task. Whatever that load may be, this context is central to understanding the experience of working under a yoke.

A Partner in the Work

I took some time to meditate on these principles, and two main lessons came to the forefront. First, I was trying to do everything by myself, but when an animal is yoked, it has help—a partner in the work. I hadn’t realized before how alone I had been feeling, facing this monumental task of wedding planning. Once I did, I understood that the vast majority of my stress was coming from that one feeling. When I recognized that for a heavy load, I should in fact solicit help from others, I immediately began to feel more at peace.

I discovered that I could and should lean on those around me, just as when two animals are yoked together, “one may resort to leaning on the other to keep its balance…” I then started bringing other people into my work, sharing the load, and seeing how people showed up for me and supported me. It deepened my connection to my soon-to-be-husband, as well as with my longstanding friends. Instead of accomplishing a set of tasks and pushing everyone away in the process, I grew my relationships in addition to completing the tasks. A yoke now started to become a symbol of the assurance that I had assistance—a message that I was not alone when faced with a difficult task. 

The second realization hit a bit later when I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts, Restore the Glory by Dr. Bob Schuchts and Jake Khym. I had this nagging feeling that I hadn’t fully plumbed the depths of this yoke lesson, but I couldn’t make any headway on my own. Then the hosts got my full attention—they started talking about yokes. I was even more excited when they began by saying that animals are yoked together in pairs and consequently not alone while they struggle to complete difficult tasks. This served as a confirmation that I had correctly grasped the first part of the message. Then, graciously, through these godly, thoughtful men, God provided me with the second and third parts of the message.

To be continued in Cracking the Yoke: part two.

Author: Andrea Sommer

Andrea is a Wisconsin native currently living and working as a legal assistant in Northern Virginia. She majored in English at Hillsdale College, so she often reads novels in her free time; but, if she's not reading the Great Books, then she is probably reading theology. She recently converted to the Catholic faith after a year-long deep dive into Patristics, and she is writing to share some of what she has learned through her studies.

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