A few weeks ago, I tried to carry a small stone in my non-dominant hand for six hours. I just couldn’t do it for very long. The stone was cumbersome. I was thinking about it all the time and it was distracting. It took all of my focus and energy. Everything I wanted to do seemed bogged down and it took me twice as long to do normal everyday tasks.
I discovered this exercise while reading the book, “The Book of Forgiving: The Fourfold Path for Healing Ourselves and Our World,” by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and his daughter Mpho Tutu. The stone represents an unforgiven hurt. No matter how large or small, unforgiving hurts consume our energy and our focus. And we often carry them for a long time. When we choose to forgive, it is for us, for ourself. It frees us from the burden that we carry with us daily. “The one who offers forgiveness as a grace is immediately untethered from the yoke that bound him or her to the person who caused the harm. When you forgive, you are free to move on in life, to grow, to no longer be a victim. When you forgive, you slip the yoke, and your future is unshackled from your past” (Tutu, 21). Releasing the stone that we have been carrying, frees us to create and live a new future. One which allows us to experience forgotten emotions such as joy, generosity, creativity, and love.
Jesus says, “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).
What does Jesus mean? How is giving him that stone I have been carrying around me going to release me from the pain that the person or the event has caused?
Interestingly, these words of Jesus come in the middle of text about Jesus’ opponents and those who refused to respond to Jesus because they did not recognize him as the Son of God. Jesus understands, truly understands, that we, too, have relationships in which we are not welcomed, accepted, or liked. He understands that we have relationships in which we are judged by others and in which we also judge. And he understands that we carry the stone of unforgiving, whether it is us that needs to forgive or be forgiven. It is that stone that we carry, like a yoke, a symbol of oppression in Jesus’ time, that indeed weighs us down and contrains us. When we carry it or wear it, we are heavy laden, physically, mentally, and emotionally.
When we tell our story to a trusted individual who has earned the right to hear our story (maybe it is even writing a letter and then burning it), when we name our hurt and pain, and when we choose to either release or restore the broken relationship, we become free and the burden we carry has once again become light. We are free to be joyful and creative. We are free to be the person we were created to be. Our souls can rest and we can be at peace.
These are incredibly difficult and painful steps to take. Naming the hurt, forgiving or asking to be forgiven, is risky and vulnerable, and often times we can feel ashamed. It is at this point that I have to trust. In naming the hurt, I first need to know that I am loved and valued, that I am worth something. And that’s what Jesus does for me. He continually tells us that we are beloved children of God and that we matter to God no matter what has happened in our lives or what we have done.
It’s a place to start. A place to begin trusting and to find the peace that we have longed for. Knowing that I am a beloved child eases the burden that I have been carrying – stone or yoke. Knowing that I can name the hurt and the pain releases me from the oppression of unforgiveness.
Tonight, pray. Take a deep breath. Name your hurt and pain. Trust Jesus knowing that he names you beloved as a child of God, unconditionally.
Peace be with you.