Getting Back What Anxiety Stole

On my way to bed, I tripped over one of my nighttime prayers: “Your yoke is easy and your burden light,” it said. I stopped with some mixture of confusion, dumbfoundedness and anger. I laughed out loud. My ‘HA!’ echoed in the dark chapel.

What kind of easy yoke and light burden wakes me up on Thursday mornings with stomachaches, my mind revving before my alarm even finishes beeping?

What kind of easy yoke and light burden exhausts a man in his prime, reducing an energetic, enthusiastic and hopelessly optimistic young Jesuit to a robot, going through motion after motion just to try to stay ‘on top of things’?

My job description has a whole list of things, and though I vaguely remember reading it over, I can certainly assure you that it did not include such adjectives as ‘easy’ and ‘light’.

Easy yoke. Light burden. Right, Jesus. Right. It’s all for you, yeah, but it’s heavy as hell.

***

I have a little lined notebook on my desk at the school, right underneath the desk lamp. It’s the first thing that greets me every morning as I unlock the door, walk over and reach under the lamp to switch it on. *sigh* Good morning, notebook. It’s full of unchecked boxes and checked boxes, three pages worth after two weeks. Before putting my bag down or my lunch in the staff fridge, I add the few things that woke me up, churning my stomach this morning: E-mail so-and-so about such-and-such big deal. Print this to give to her, to return to him, ASAP.

So it begins and never ends. Even after that desk lamp switches off at 5-ish, my mind is still running, the to-do list a treadmill always six clicks faster than comfortable.

***

A few weeks ago, I wasted the single most beautiful autumn afternoon of the year. I completely missed the sun tucked among billowing clouds. I missed the slight breezes pushing dry, yellow leaves across the ground. The perfect 64-degree warmth didn’t tickle my skin, and every delightful coworker in the school was only an extra to the drama of my afternoon errand: 2 boxes checked off the list. (But checking off those boxes felt really good.)

Halfway through the second errand, halfway across the campus parking lot, halfway through saying to myself, “I am so lucky to be here, in this beautiful place, with so many terrific people – too bad I’m too busy. Too bad I can’t enjoy it…” halfway through, I stopped thinking, I stopped walking and I paused. I felt one of the breezes, almost beckoning to me. I let myself stop and listen, and I heard the breeze rustling the leaves. It spoke softly: “Why not enjoy all this now?”

Everything went new. The world came alive, as if it had been paused in my single-minded haste. Everything I missed, I felt: the sun and the breezes, the warmth of the air, the warmth of the laughter with my coworkers- I felt it all. I smiled, I laughed out loud, I started walking again, repeating to myself “I am so lucky to be here, in this beautiful place with so many terrific people; I am so lucky to be here, in this beautiful place with so many terrific people; I am so lucky…”

***

“Yes, but” is an insidious trump card that kills the leading clause of any sentence, no matter how beautiful, no matter how good. My litanies of gratitudes were daily crushed by it, flattened underfoot by me-on-a-mission, racing across campus.

But my world came alive when I took the final word away from my anxiety- when I let gratitude end my sentence and not anxiety’s inevitable “Yes, but.”

This seems like too simple a grammatical switch for such a huge payoff, but looking back, the reframed sentence was only a lever. Something came in on that little breeze. Something else did the real work, the heavy lifting- it certainly wasn’t me. Perhaps that’s why I consider the parking lot moment my most meaningful moment of prayer this semester.

***

I still really don’t know what it means that the “yoke is easy” or the “burden is light.” But I do know this much: I don’t have the strength or power to split open the world as it split last week. I am so often surrounded with gifts I don’t let myself receive until my endless work ends, but I feel a change coming, slight as the smallest breeze… And come to think of it, there is something easy and light to that.

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