It happened at a Saturday night stake conference meeting. The chapel was nearly full when we arrived, so my husband and I ended up sitting on the front row of the chapel. Elder Henry B. Eyring, our visiting authority, addressed the subject of marriage; we were so close to him that I could clearly see the earnestness on his face.
He counseled us to be kind in our dealings with our spouse. Then, as nearly as I can remember his words, he seemed to look right at me, and said, “Only the Savior knows our spouse’s great potential. We personally offend Him when we judge our spouse harshly.”
Just that week I’d been in a judgmental, self-righteous mind-set, fearful of the future, certain that the problems in our marriage could never be resolved unless he changed. I sat in tears realizing my own need to change. Later that evening I was so grateful for my husband’s kind response when I asked his forgiveness.
Looking back, the contrast is amazing between the misery I have felt whenever I sit in judgment thinking I am right, and the sweetness of the Spirit when I can see my own need to repent and ask forgiveness. That night when I responded to Elder Henry B. Eyring’s inspired words, I felt the rest of the Lord. The adversary can only keep me wanting to be right if I forget the sweetness of recognizing the need to repent, the sweetness of resting in His way.
That sweetness is part of the “yoke” of the Lord. I have at times resisted submitting to the Lord’s yoke for the same reason I have resisted seeing the truth when I am wrong: I get so caught up in the challenges and emotional issues of the moment that I forget how light and easy the Lord’s yoke is. I forget the sweetness of His Spirit, of being part of His work, of being strengthened by His love and guidance.
We’ve all been taught that it is possible to choose to respond to others from a place of charity instead of pride and fear. It is possible to set fear aside so we can relate to life in the present moment rather than being tied to the trauma of the past. It is possible to let go of the need to be right. But it’s not possible for the natural man. It’s not possible when we are trying to do it by sheer will power. It’s not possible when we think we can do it by ourselves.
What makes it possible? Humbly submitting to the yoke of Christ and the guidance of the Spirit.
Why The Lord’s Yoke Is Light
Years ago, listening to one of those conference addresses on never giving up on your marriage, I was suddenly overcome by a terrible feeling of being unacceptable to the Church or the Lord because I had chosen divorce. (Never mind the number of times I had received reassurance in regard to the necessity of that decision.) I felt less than, not good enough, on the outside. I felt heavy laden.
The very next week our Sunday School lesson was on Matthew 11:28-30, ” Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 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. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.” The teacher explained that the yoke of Christ is a double yoke and that He is inviting us to yoke up with Him .
I sat in amazement as I envisioned for the first time the Savior of the world inviting poor, lowly, mortal me to be yoked with Him, find rest, share his strength, his perfection, his love. And the teacher made a point of the fact that people like me who felt heavy laden were the very ones the Savior was talking to.
Until then I hadn’t understand how the Lord’s yoke could be easy or light. Every other reference to yoke in the Topical Guide refers to a yoke as heavy, hard: “yoke of his burden, iron yoke, yoke of bondage, made our yoke grievous.” But the glorious difference in the Matthew reference is this: The Savior is giving us an invitation to join Him, to be yoked with Him. He doesn’t load a heavy yoke onto us and leave us to plow alone and expect us to make it by ourselves. He doesn’t say He will join us when we get to the end of the row.
The dictionary offers several definitions for the word “yoke” The one Jesus most likely referred to is this: “A wooden frame fitted across the necks of two oxen or other draft animals for joining them together as they pull a plow or a wagon.” The purpose of a yoke is to distribute and lighten the load between two animals, to “join them together” (“at-one-ment”?). In this grand analogy, it is as though the Savior is saying, “when you are heavy laden, when the way is too hard, come to Me, submit to My yoke – always a double yoke with Me on the other side. When I am working beside you, your load will feel light, the yoke will feel easy on your shoulders, because my unlimited strength will make up the difference for your weakness.”
He doesn’t tell us that we must attain a certain degree of worthiness before we can accept his invitation. He says, “come now, in your time of need.”
To Be Yoked with Him I Must Go His Way
What an amazing concept that I am invited to have Him right beside me – He who never tires, never needs sleep, always knows what is best to do. But the yoke concept works only if I’m willing to go the Lord’s way, move in the same direction He is headed, have the same desires, plow the same field. The instant I want my will to be done instead of His, want to be right instead of see the truth, move off in my own direction, I am rejecting His yoke by rejecting His gentle guidance.
President Ezra Taft Benson said:
The proud cannot accept the authority of God giving direction to their lives. (See Hel. 12:6.) They pit their perceptions of truth against God’s great knowledge, their abilities versus God’s priesthood power, their accomplishments against His mighty works (Ezra Taft Benson, “Beware of Pride,” Ensign , May 1989, p. 4).
Pridefulness can’t be yoked with Christ, only humility.
Neither is there a place for perfection ism (the need to be or appear perfect right now) in that yoke. My friend Peggy wrote me about the inspiration she received on the subject. She felt the Lord’s comforting words, “‘My yoke is easy and my burden is light,’ Peg. Just listen for what I guide you to do and let all stress go about not doing everything perfectly.” She responded, “That is where I’m frustrated, Lord. I want to do it all perfectly, at least very well, and I can’t.” She felt the Lord’s response: ” Don’t worry about what you can’t do, Peg.
Just trust in my guidance.”
One of our basic needs is belonging: I can imagine no fuller sense of belonging than to be yoked with Christ, belonging to Him, feeling acceptable to Him, trusting Him to set the course, aligning ourselves with His purposes. We can’t stay yoked if we are looking back instead of forward.
Being yoked with Him requires our trust; we must say “Thy will be done – let’s do it Your way, go the direction You say is right.” Staying yoked requires letting go of judgments of what is happening, trying to learn, instead, from each situation. It requires humility and teachableness – the opposite of a determination to be right about our own perceptions. It requires seeing that all of life’s circumstances are tailored for our particular need to learn and grow – the opposite of “Why me?” or counseling the Lord and telling Him that things should be different than they are.
Weakness Can Motivate Us to Accept the Lord’s Yoke
2 Corinthians 6:14 says:
Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers; for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? And what communion hath light with darkness?
Wouldn’t I be unequally yoked to the extreme to put weak, foolish, fragile me in a yoke with the only perfect being who ever lived on the earth, God’s only begotten Son? Yes, but the Lord will only refuse me if I refuse to believe, refuse to keep his laws, refuse to seek His light. He welcomes me in my weakness, knowing it is the only way to strength. Somehow, submitting to that yoke, minute by minute infuses true believers with His power and strength. And it is their very weakness, their recognition of their dependence on Him, that draws them to the yoking and makes them strong.
Joni Eareckson Tada, paralyzed from the neck down in a diving accident when she was 17, was, at first, angry at God; she wanted to die. Now 59, she has written 35 inspirational books, does a daily five-minute radio show with more than a million listeners a week, holds 18 family retreats yearly for special needs people and their families, heads Wheels for the World, which collects, fixes, and ships wheelchairs for poor people (35,000 in 70 countries to date). She also heads the Joni and Friends International Disability Center that works with the United Nations on disability issues and trains church staff and volunteers to work with those affected by disability. All this from a woman who for 42 years has not been able to lift a finger.
She says, “I’m not a saint. I wake up every morning and say “Where am I going to find the strength to make it till lunch time?’ That’s what drives me to God,” she admits. “My weakness.” She adds thoughtfully, “My weakness is my strength.” ( diane, The Curves Magazine, Winter, 2007, p. 44)
Can any member of the Church read Joni’s words and not think of Ether 12:27? Joni is obviously a woman of great faith who has chosen to “take His yoke upon her,” take her weakness to the Lord and have weak things be made strong unto her.
So many times, when we “labour and are heavy laden” with cares, the Lord does not immediately remove the burdens. The Lord said to the people of Alma when they were in bondage to Amulon:
And I will also ease the burdens, which are put upon your shoulders, that even you cannot feel them upon yours backs … that ye may know of a surety that I, the Lord God, do visit my people in their afflictions. 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 the will of the Lord (Mosiah 24:14-15).
And so it is that, as we yoke ourselves with Him, our burdens become light that we cannot feel them. Our capacity increases, our ability to carry the burden is so much greater that the burden feels light.
I remember crying to the Lord for help and relief at a time when my burdens seemed too heavy. The tasks at hand seemed impossible, the obstacles insurmountable. No one magically appeared to lighten my load, but the Lord increased my capacity so that with His help I was able to do what had seemed so impossible.
Choosing Between Bondage and Freedom
Mother Teresa said,
All will be well if we surrender ourselves to God. Turn to the Father with Christlike confidence and love … Acceptance, surrender and the fruits that stem from it fill us with his love for us … We cannot be free except by being able to renounce our will in favor of God’s will. (Mother Teresa, No Greater Love)
There is bondage in pride, bondage in resisting the Spirit, bondage in falling prey to the adversary’s temptations to contend, to prove our “rightness,” to put anyone down. Alma’s people were eventually delivered from their bondage. We are told, “Yea, and in the valley of Alma they poured our their thanks to God because he had been merciful unto them, and eased their burdens and had delivered them out of bondage; for they were in bondage and none could deliver them except it were the Lord their God” (Mosiah 24:21).
And so it is with us. No matter what the burden, no matter what kind of bondage, there is no other real deliverance except in the Lord. Ironically, the way to glorious freedom is submitting to the Lord’s yoke, learning to think as He thinks, feel as he feels, be immersed in the Spirit. When in tune we can learn from hard experiences and go on.
Being yoked with Him opens the door to spirituality, inspiration and personal revelation, to acceptance, humility, honesty, charity, understanding, patience, wisdom and light. It means accepting that we don’t need to fix or change anyone but ourselves. It means resigning from trying to control anyone but ourselves. It means turning our energies to our personal repentance. It means accepting that the very God of this earth wants to be intimately involved in our lives.
The Difference Christ’s Yoke Makes in Daily Life
President Hinckley is a prime example of one who has taken upon him the Lord’s yoke and found it light. I’ve often wondered how one man can bear such a heavy responsibility as stewardship for the whole Church. The answer is obvious. One man couldn’t – only a man yoked with Christ the Savior. Only the Savior making the yoke light and easy could explain President Hinckley’s legendary optimism and good humor in the face of daunting challenges, and a schedule of travel and demands that would exhaust and discourage the most robust younger man.
I have no doubt that President Hinckley is able to do what he does because he doesn’t do it alone. He knows with a perfect knowledge that this is Christ’s church, Christ’s work. Yoked with Him, the Savior renews and strengthens and guides President Hinckley so that he can strengthen and guide the Church.
I’ve experienced the lightness of Christ’s yoke in small but vivid ways in my own life. When I try to write an article on my own, I feel like I’m pulling a heavy plow alone and the work is hard! I tire long before I get to the end of row. But when I’m yoked with Him and feel I’m doing His work, the ideas flow, my strength doesn’t slacken, and I find myself at the end of the row before I know it. I still have to do my part and keep moving, but the work is not only easy, it is joyful!
Another example: My husband and I have been called to serve an inner city service mission. When I view the problems of our assigned families without the Spirit everything seems too hard, even hopeless. But when I’m yoked with Him and praying hard for guidance, numerous ideas and possibilities flood my mind. The burden feels light!
“For My Yoke is Easy, and My Burden is Light”
D&C 128 offers so many verses that testify to the lightness of the yoke of Christ and the gladness of being involved in His work, hearing His voice, responding to His spirit: verse 19: “Now, what do we hear in the gospel which we have received? A voice of gladness!” (and it goes on to list some of the greatest glad tidings of the gospel.) Then in verse 22: “Brethren, shall we not go on in so great a cause? Go forward and not backward. Courage, brethren: and on, on to the victory! Let your hearts rejoice, and be exceedingly glad.”
Whenever we are heavy-laden, we need to realize we can’t overcome by ourselves. However, the Savior’s arms are always extended to us. His words are constant: ” Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 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. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light” (Matthew 11:29).