It had been another hard day with our new baby who wouldn’t nurse or nap well. Even more, it had been another hard day of seeing all the ways I was falling short of the mom I wanted to be. I had lost my temper and failed to complete the tasks I had planned for the day. I was feeling frustrated, out of control, and disappointed in myself.
When my husband came home from work and kindly offered to take the baby so I could get some time alone, I basically ran out of the house as fast as I could. A few minutes later, I found myself at a coffee shop, hands shaking as I scribbled a desperate prayer on the back of my receipt: “This is too much! I’m trying really hard, but I keep failing to hit the ‘good mom’ standard I have in my head. I am not enough for this!”
I had hit a wall.
Two additional kids and eight years later, I can see that this particular “wall” was the first of many I would run up against in motherhood. But I have found that God uses the walls we hit to lead us back to the gospel.
In Matthew 11:28–30, Jesus issues a beautiful invitation to those of us who keep hitting walls as we strive to meet all the standards: “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.”
Picture two oxen hitched together with a wooden frame, straining as they work to plow a field. This wooden frame is called a yoke, and it was a common metaphor for subjection to a person or law in ancient Judaism. The religious leaders of Jesus’ day had misinterpreted God’s good law, creating extra rules nearly impossible for the everyday person to keep (Matt. 23:4). Like oxen yoked to a heavy plow, the people were burdened and straining to walk forward beneath all of this extra weight. No matter how hard they tried, they were always falling short of the standard. They were never enough!
As moms, we too may find ourselves heavy laden, straining beneath invisible yokes. Like me, you may be working under self-imposed burdens: “a good mom” would never raise her voice, would always feed her kids healthy food, or would always be able to maintain control of her house, her kids, and her to-do list. Or, you may be laboring under the weight of external pressures: the expectations of a mother-in-law, the unspoken standards of a friend group or church, the “mommy laws” you might unknowingly absorb from your social media feed.
Burdened by all of these expectations, we moms can feel like we are never going to be enough. Sometimes, God even allows us to hit a wall, and suddenly we know we are never going to be enough! Weary from trying to measure up, we long for rest from our striving.
And that, friends, is where Jesus comes to us with very good news. In Matthew 11, this good news comes in the form of three commands and one beautiful promise:
“Come to me.” Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us. God stepped into time and space to invite the ones who could never measure up to come to him. There are no expectations or standards to meet here, for he has already met every standard perfectly. We are not enough, but he is enough! And through his death and resurrection, he credits his “enough” to us (2 Cor. 5:21). We can come, confident not in our own mothering abilities but in his provision and grace.
“Take my yoke.” Because the sinless Jesus already kept the law perfectly, we are free to trade our heavy yoke of striving for his light and easy one. His commandments are not burdensome, but are given for our flourishing (1 John 5:3). Yoked to Jesus and walking in the power of his Spirit, we find strength and joy and real life—even in the trenches of motherhood.
“Learn from me.” Here, Jesus calls us to be his disciples, to learn from him as we follow his ways and keep in step with his Spirit throughout our day. Although we are weak and we fail, he carries the weight, his grace is sufficient, and his power is made perfect in our weaknesses (2 Cor. 12:9). Like a weaker ox laboring beside a much stronger one, we do the work of motherhood alongside a strong but gentle Jesus, empowered by his very Spirit, trusting him to use our everyday motherhood moments to make us more like him (Rom. 8:26–29).
“And you will find rest for your souls.” True rest from our striving comes not from a night away from our kids, some “me time” during a successful nap, or a day at the spa (although those can be nice!). True rest comes from an ongoing relationship with the person of Christ, and trusting completely in his work on the cross.
Friends, Jesus carried the weight of every standard we could not meet to the cross, and left them buried in the grave when he rose again. Yoked to him, he invites us to trade our striving for rest, looking forward to that glorious Day when we will lay down our burdens forever.
If you are weary and tired of striving this Advent, would you heed his tender invitation? Come to him, take his yoke, and learn from him, that you would find true rest for your soul.
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION/ APPLICATION:
Do you relate to Caroline’s coffee shop receipt prayer? When is the last time you experienced one of these “walls” of coming to the end of yourself?
Make a list of the “impossible standards” you feel the weight of in motherhood? Have you or the people around you, like the Pharisees, added to the standard God puts forth for his people?
How should Christ’s fulfillment of the law on our behalf, and the knowledge that he walks with us, change the way we respond to our own shortcomings? How does it free us from the expectations of others?
In 2011, Caroline Cobb gave herself a goal to write a song for every book of the Bible in a year. That year of writing set in motion a new passion to tell the stories of scripture through music, faithfully and creatively. Caroline’s latest album, a Home & a Hunger: Songs of Kingdom Hope explores the tension between the "already" and "not yet,” with each song parachuting into a different biblical scene. Caroline and her husband Nick live in Dallas, TX with their three young kids (Ellie, Harrison, and Libby).