Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. Matthew 11:28-30
“Good morning! Rise and shine!” The sing-song voice in the hallway tugged me awake from dreamland, and my eyes peeked open.
“Morning! Time to get up!” Repeating the perky chant, a dorm auntie marched down the first-grade hall. “Rise and shine.” She paused in our bedroom doorway and flipped on the light switch.
My eyes clamped shut like a mousetrap, at the brightness of the bare, overhead bulb. Yawning, I raised my arms overhead and stretched from the tips of my fingers down to my wiggling toes. What day is it? Where am I?
With a sudden jolt of awareness, a cauldron of gloom bubbled over in my gut. I’m not at home — I’m at KA. Last week my parents had put me on a plane and sent me here to Kent Academy, the boarding school for missionary kids. Yuck. I have to stay here ’til Christmas. I groaned and rolled to face the wall.
“Hurry, Debbie. Get up!” one of the girls said. “We’ve got to clean our room again.”
Outside our window, cheerful birds sang their morning chorus. I want to stay in bed and listen to their chirping until it’s time to fly home, I thought, and snuggled deeper under my blanket.
My roommate poked my shoulder with a sharp finger. “Remember, when the siren rings, the Big Sister comes to help. We’re supposed to be dressed and have our beds already made!”
Finally, I crawled out from under the covers and began the treacherous descent from the top bunk. My toes stretched down to the first bar, then the second, and nearly slid off with the towels. Soon my feet touched the cold cement floor. Whew! I made it down.
With a quick glance in our little mirror above the dresser, I noticed my short hair stuck out at all angles like a hedgehog. The brush didn’t tame it. I patted down the spikes, thinking, I’ll have to splash water on it later. But first, get ready for Room Check.
A Little Help Please
We four girls bustled around, opened and slammed dresser drawers, and pulled on our new school clothes. Once dressed, I climbed up to my bed and tried to straighten it by crawling toward the head while yanking the covers along behind me. My stomach rumbled for breakfast.
Suddenly the wild wail of a siren blasted across the school campus, and a minute later a tall junior high girl dashed into the room. “Okay, who needs help?”
“I do! I do! Me too!” Four little voices called out.
“Oh dear! Your beds aren’t made yet. Let’s start with the upper bunks. But we’ve got to be quick, since I only have fifteen minutes.” The Big Sister helped us tug bedspreads evenly over lumpy pillows, tuck sheets and blankets in on all sides, and get four beds presentable.
“Now, one of you dust the windowsill and be sure to get the corners, too. Someone clear the dresser tops, wipe them off, and return everything neatly.” She stopped and glanced behind her at the dressers. “Don’t forget to dust the drawer handles. The auntie might check there too.”
While the others tackled those chores, she showed two of us how to remove all the shoes from the floor of the wardrobe, wipe the space clean, and replace the footwear in neat rows. “Next, sweep quickly but thoroughly.”
The siren rang again. Our Big Sister strode to the doorway, grabbed the dust pan out of the garbage can, and pressed it into my hands. “Sorry, but I have to clean my own room.”
“Wait! We still need help!” My plaintive croak revealed the panic rising in my throat. “How can we finish without you?”
“Just keep working, girls. I’m sorry, but I’ve got to go.” I stood in the doorway watching her disappear down the junior high hall. With a sigh, I turned to the room.
Doom and Gloom with the Broom
One little gal was battling with the broom, doing her best to get the wide, wooden bristle-head under the bed and all the way to the wall, trying not to push dirt in front of it. Then with a mighty jerk of her elbows, she hauled the unwieldy weapon back and nearly smacked the side of my head with its long handle.
I jumped to my left. “Hey! Watch out!”
“Stay out of my way. This silly broom is taller than me.”
She made several long-armed swipes and managed to keep the heavy handle close to her side. As I stooped to watch, I saw that each little, fluffy, bunny-fuzz floated right out of the path of the bristles.
Eventually, we had a good-enough pile of dirt in the middle of the floor. I held the pan flat on the ground and she rammed the broom forward.
A cloud of grit hit my face. “Ouch! There’s dust in my eyes!” I hopped to my feet. Grabbing the hem of my shirt, I dug my fingers into my eye sockets and wiped away the grime.
Squatting down, I said, “C’mon. Let’s get this over with so we can eat breakfast.”
Smarter now, I stretched my left arm forward with the pan, angled my shoulders back, and planted my right palm on the floor for balance. She shoved the broom; I closed my eyes. Most of the dirt made it into the pan. Job done.
It’s a Contest
“We’re ready for Room Check!” The four of us squeezed together into the doorway and yelled down the hall to whomever could hear us. We weren’t allowed out yet, but an auntie emerged from a door down the hall. “We’re ready! Are we first?”
“No, but let’s see how good of a job you did,” the auntie said. “If you get a star every day, you’ll have a chance of winning the Room Contest in six weeks.”
She began at the dressers and ran her fingers along the top, inspecting for dust. We passed. Opening one of the drawers, she lifted a folded shirt. “Whose is this? The clothes underneath are wadded up.”
I hung my head and traced the toe of my sneakers along a crack in the floor. “It’s my drawer,” I whispered.
“Come over here and fold these again, please.”
As I straightened the shirts and shorts, she continued her inspection. Things didn’t go too well. She pointed out one item after another that didn’t meet the standard:
- Towels bunched up on the towel bar
- Wrinkles in every bed
- Bunny fuzz under the beds
- Grit on the floor where we tried to sweep it into the dust pan
“You’ll have to work harder, girls. I know you can do better.” Looking around at our crestfallen faces, her sharp voice softened.
“I’ll give you half a star today. Try to get a full star tomorrow.”
The breakfast bell rang, and we scurried out the door to the dining hall. As I ran across the playground, the smell of roasted guinea-corn porridge wafted from the kitchen.
But my tummy felt tight from the morning hubbub, and I thought, I’m not hungry anymore. I just want a hug from Mom.
Throughout elementary school, every morning began with a feeling of dread over having to meet the high standards of Room Check. Though I soon learned the ropes and my room passed inspection most of the time, fear of failure motivated me daily.
Even today I panic when jolted awake by a loud noise, so I only set my alarm when I need to catch a plane. Each time I attempt to clean house, I believe I must dig into every corner with the duster and reach under every bed with the vacuum. Thus, I quit before I start. I’m still striving to win that Room Contest, determined to tick off each item and put a star by it at the end of the day.
I’m learning, now, that life is not a competition. I don’t have to jump out of bed at the exact same time every morning or keep my house perfect to earn a star. A few years ago my husband got tired of cleaning the bathrooms himself and encouraged me to hire a friend who earns extra money as a housekeeper. Win-win-win!
God’s authority differs from human authority, and he invites us to live under his yoke alone. Because Jesus paid the penalty on the cross for my sin, he gives me ultimate rest from striving for perfection. I can walk daily with Jesus in an intimate and gentle relationship of love and grace. His yoke is easy.
Link it to Your Life
When have you felt weighed down by the demands of an impossibly high standard? Or frazzled when trying to meet the expectations of others? How did you cope then? Perhaps you’re ready for God to refresh your weary heart with his loving hand. How can you live more fully in the truth that God gives grace and rest to those who are burdened?
Prayer: Father, help me to look beyond personal achievements to prove my worth. Please replace my burden of strict expectations with your yoke of grace, which is so much lighter.