Jesus tells us, “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.” (Matthew 11:29) A simple request to turn away from those things that distract us and turn to accepting the lessons and wisdom of Jesus. To have faith in Jesus rights our path, not only because he is with us, but because we pick up his ways.
My friend Mel, who had left the corporate world to help the poor for the Catholic Church in the northwest part of the United States but now returned, called me in distress. He had walked away from a well-paying job for two years to help those less fortunate. Upon his return to the corporate world he was finding it hard to find a new job. Many interviewers did not understand why he left, and many were put off by the fact that he was sixty. He kept meeting dead ends in his job search. Confusion about doing good in the world and then being rebuffed in the job market had created a crisis in his life. He did not need a job for the money; he just wanted to belong again.
Over the next two years, he searched for a place to work. He prayed on a regular basis. He even went away for a week to a retreat center looking for his answer. He wanted desperately to belong again. His self-esteem plummeted, and he began to feel worthless. His searching kept leading him to disappointment.
We talked on a weekly basis, at an appointed time, and during these sessions, I would often probe him about why a job in his old world was so important. He would reply, “Because it is my identity.” For years he had worked hard to provide for his family and build a wonderful résumé, but now he had lost that ability.
During these two years, Mel would still help others. In fact, he helped a group of nuns create a shelter for homeless pregnant woman. Many days he put in long hours painting and fixing the shelter. Within this community he found acceptance, but not what he wanted. He wanted to go back to his old life. Oftentimes, I would tell him how much I admired his caring and giving efforts for others. I would relay to him that when I told his story to other people, they were amazed at his giving nature and life. For two years, this was not enough for Mel. He kept searching and not finding. Eventually, he decided to go back to school and become an EMT, while he waited for a more ideal new job. He kept waiting for Jesus to answer his prayer of finding him a job.
Typical of Mel, he was one of the best students in the EMT training. Despite some physical limitations he was able to keep up with the younger people in his class. He began to thrive. Many times, I would get a text from him saying something like “I can’t talk tonight, I am going out with my classmates.” I was used to this, as many of the people I help eventually find their answer and move on to their new life. It is a very familiar process. I miss these people and often wonder how they are doing, but my job was done.
Later, in one of our final conversations, Mel relayed to me that he had prayed for an answer many times, but he kept looking in the wrong spots. The answer to what was his identity did not lie in the old spot of the corporate world, but in helping make the world a better place. Jesus had been answering his prayers; he just had not paid attention.
Jesus asks us to take his yoke. Jesus reminds us that he is “gentle and humble of heart,” and that his “yoke is light.” How many times do we all pray for something that we want, but Jesus gives us something different? He gives us a life plan that soothes our soul and gives us meaning. Many times, it is about following a new path, away from the familiar. A path of uncertainty on which we take his yoke and are guided by his “gentle and humble” heart.
Mel is peaceful now and I miss my weekly calls, but I am happy that Mel’s new identity is on a path of giving. When we ask ourselves “What sort of man is this?” Jesus’ answer is also, that he is “gentle and humble of heart.”