I always loved my Grandpa’s big, old barn. Once used for horse and carriage, the dirt floor was time-worn into ruts. It smelled a bit musty but it housed an eclectic collection of stuff that made me eager for just a few more minutes there, any chance I got. I’m sure it was chock full of antiques. What I saw were bits and pieces of my Grandpa’s life.
The one thing that always caught my eye was an old wooden yoke. It sure looked heavy; perhaps a bit uncomfortable, too. I expect he had it because he’d used it. He was of that era when manual labor and yoking a team were routine.
The most common yoke in our region has always been the neck yoke. It is made for oxen and cattle. Their center of gravity is low; they are deliberate, if a bit slow — but not flighty; they press broad shoulders into the work.* Hmmm. In all of those respects, cattle are not unlike North Country folk!
The yoke is heavy — if you are the one lifting it into position. It is not heavy if you are meant to wear it. The yoke-bearing beast does not find it a burden. They work better with less effort in step with a partner. A properly fitted yoke maximizes the team’s potential.
But as one expert tiller said, “Yokes are not like shoes for children. One size does not fit all.”* A yoke is fit for a time, not for life. A young team may have several yokes before they are fully mature.*
When the Hubs and I married — thirty years ago this fall — we were unequally yoked in many ways. It was a bit of a rough start. It took us awhile to find the right fit. We’ve been through a few yokes, for sure. But once we hit our stride and learned to work in sync, we never looked back. That is the beauty of a long partnership. It is a joyful thing to be perfectly paired!
Fortunately, being yoked is not just for cattle and spouses. One of the most beautiful passages in scripture is Jesus’ encouragement to accept his yoke.
Matthew recorded Jesus’ gracious offer:
“Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”
What an amazing thought — the death-defying, awe-inspiring God has a yoke just for me. No wonder it is an easy yoke, fitting perfectly. He does the heavy lifting, placing it on my shoulders. My burdens become easier to bear, redistributed across the heavenlies. He is a gentle and kind master. He teaches me as I go. He gives me rest when I am weary. And water so that I need not thirst. I don’t know how long my journey or what lies in the path ahead. I only know that yoked by Jesus, tenderly guided, I will get there.
*Tillers International (http://www.tillersinternational.org/) Tech Guides. Richard Rosenburg, 1992. David Kramer, 1997. Drew Conroy, 2004.