When are we most likely to experience the closeness of God – in our trials or in our victories? St. John of the Cross said, “When you are burdened you are close to God. When you are relieved of your burden you are close to yourself.” (Sayings of Light and Love, No. 4)
In this proverb-like statement, he proclaims a truth that captures our human nature intersecting with the ways of God. When things are going well for us we tend to focus more on ourselves than God. Remember the ten lepers who were healed by Jesus. Only one returned to thank him and praise God. (Luke 17:17-18)
When we are burdened beyond our capabilities or unable to envision the solution to our needs, we are more open to turn to God. We are more open to acknowledge the humble state of our need.
When our youngest daughter was facing open heart surgery at six months to correct openings between the auricle and ventricle chambers of her heart, some dear Christian friends came to pray over her and us. After praying with us, one of them said, “God has never been closer to you than right now.” He was right. We experienced both God’s presence and his peace. During a subsequent pre-surgical catheterization, we learned that the most critical opening had been healed, and the surgery on the less serious opening could be postponed until she was four, when she was much stronger and the surgery would be less risky.
The liturgical readings for this past Sunday from Daniel and the Gospel of Mark were about the tribulation of the end times and the signs preceding the second coming of Jesus. The overall message was that we need not fear these events for we have the hope of the coming of Jesus who will set all things right.
We should have the same hope when faced with various burdens in our lives, for they are opportunities to experience Jesus and his mercy, love, forgiveness, renewal, and restoration. The burden could be a sin, the alienation of a friend, an illness, the loss of a loved one, the loss of a job, or a personal financial crisis.
Whatever it is, Jesus says, “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.” (Mt. 11:28-29)
This past week, at a Christian ministry for the local jail, I listened to three different men share how the tribulation of their imprisonment had led them to be open to listening to God and his invitation to become a part of their lives through Jesus Christ. One literally said that he would be dead now if he had not been imprisoned, which caused him to listen to God and come to know Jesus.
His burden has become his blessing.