At the end of November I was in the delivery room for the birth of Ivy Gao. Her mom was an immigrant from China; her husband was not crazy about watching the birthing process. So I was there as “mom”. And held Joyce’s hand as she went into labour.
Labour. The very word sounds onerous. But while pregnancy and birthing are not exactly a cake-walk, there is help. Medical advances have taken away the worst of the sting of pregnancy and childbirth.
Probably, for most women, labour really starts in earnest after the child is born. Every fever, every cough, every bad choice, every hard time...Maybe that is part of the curse on the woman: the pain in child-bearing is more than just labour pains at birth, or the discomfort and complications of pregnancy.
Labour. The relationship between the mother and child is meant to be one of satisfaction. Of joy. But that relationship is also laborious. Filled with pain.
And the relationship between the man and the woman. The spontaneous outburst of “bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” is now tainted; marriage is no longer all joy. In the best of marriages, the couple tastes the mystical oneness of two disparate persons. But complete oneness is always just outside our grasp.
And for men, productivity is supposed to be life-affirming. But the whole earth seems to be in a conspiracy to throw a wrench into his plans for fulfillment. He rebelled against His Creator and now all creation is in rebellion against him, giving him what he needs and wants with great reluctance. Every advance is gained with a lot of struggle.
As one sage observes, vanity of vanities, all is vanity (Ecc 1:2). Life under the sun seems completely meaningless even in success.
The question Job asked might have been asked by every person at one time or another:
“Is not all human life a struggle?
Our lives are like that of a hired hand,
like a worker who longs for the shade,
like a servant waiting to be paid. (Job 7:1,2 NLT)
Labour. Because we refuse to be under God’s rule. Because we decide we want to be ones to determine what is good and what is evil. Because we want to be God.
Rest. Rest from all the labour, the conflict, the distrust and uncertainty. Sabbath and Shalom. True rest is not inactivity. Rather it is a quietness and confidence, a purposeful, unhurried doing. Seen only in one man, the one who when challenged for healing on a sabbath, replied, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.”
That work of bringing to humanity both restoration and rest was completed when at the Cross, Jesus cried, It is finished. Done. Now we can be healed. Now we can have peace. Now we can rest. Because Jesus has finished the work of bearing the consequences of our rebellion.
"True rest is no longer out of reach. We can have it. If we will once again come under His rule; or in His words, take His yoke on ourselves."
And because all that needed to be done for our restoration has been done, the risen Christ now SITS at the right hand of the Father, interceding for His people. Praying for us that we may know that rest, that we may heed His invitation, “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.” (Mt 11:28-30)
True rest is no longer out of reach. We can have it. If we will once again come under His rule; or in His words, take His yoke on ourselves.
The resolve to stay under that rule is one we have to choose, again and again. It is the submission of knowing we are not God; that we are not the arbiters of right and wrong. It is the willingness to keep turning and returning. Or to use a term we are more familiar with, repenting.
Repenting from thinking we can earn our salvation and instead, resting on His finished work alone.
May 1, our country celebrates Labour Day by taking a day off labouring. Let’s take a day to think deeply of our enslavement to sin and the price of our freedom. And strive to enter that rest.
Happy rest day.
Mary Yeo is still learning what it means to enter the Sabbath rest and to rest from her works.