While the Middle East rages, the global economy teeters, and our nation roils in the throes of a presidential campaign, it might just be time to pick up Ellen Vaughn’s newest book, “Come, Sit, Stay: Finding Rest for Your Soul.”
On the book’s cover is a Labrador puppy, complete with large endearing eyes and silky blond fur, looking perfectly content with his head resting on his paws atop a velvety red sofa. AHHHHHH. Peace. If only . . .
But, says Vaughn, even in the midst of lives far more complicated than a canine’s, we can experience the abundant rest and peace that Jesus promises when He says, “Come to me, all you who are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” But to do so, we need to do what we tell our pets to do: Come. Sit. Stay. Come to Jesus. Sit at His feet. Stay with Him.
This is what Jesus commanded His followers to do. And, says Vaughn, when Jesus spoke these words, they were not necessarily mild invitations, but more likely strong commands, such as we might give to an errant pup: “Come! Now! (lest you get eaten by that behemoth across the street); Sit! (while I clean that mud off your feet); and Stay! (with Me, close by, so I can protect you from danger while we enjoy each other’s company).”
While this kind of joy and rest in the presence of our Savior is available to every believer, Vaughn says we sometimes choose to stay away, too proud or too frightened, choosing instead to carry our burdens alone.
Those burdens that we human beings carry tend to fall into four categories, says Vaughn: the burdens of sin, shame, “the shoulds,” and suffering.
Vaughn knows whereof she speaks. In a powerfully personal chapter on the burden of shame, she describes the pain she experienced after being gang-raped as a graduate student in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, D.C., after a night out drinking with friends:
I knew that what happened to me was the perpetrators’ fault. They bear responsibility for what they did. But I realized that even though I had repressed the memory, I had felt tons of guilt and shame for decades . . . guilt about the fact that I had been wandering away from God during that time in my life. . . . I saw how the residual effects of that dark night had long affected my ability to be naked and honest with Jesus and to expose my true self in my relationships as well.
Moving from deep transparency to her characteristic humor, Ellen captures perfectly the burden of “the shoulds” as often experienced by Christian women:
I should be thin; I should be as great a friend/wife/mom/sister/daughter/boss/whatever as so-and-so; I should be memorizing more Scripture and eating more vegetables and whole grains; and basically, I should be “practically perfect in every way,” just like Mary Poppins.
Some of us, says Vaughn, are so weighed down by these burdens of sin, shame, and the “shoulds,” that we have actually changed shape, like the elderly women in China who have carried such heavy yokes across their shoulders for so many years that they can no longer walk upright.
“Have you ever carried something for so long that you cannot imagine living without it?” Vaughn asks. She powerfully describes how Jesus can take those burdens from our shoulders and replace them with His yoke. When He says, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from you,” He is actually talking about a yoking practice in which a stronger ox and weaker ox are yoked together, and yet the weight, yes, all of the weight, falls on the stronger ox. The weaker ox simply walks alongside in step, learning.
What Vaughn is particularly good at is sharing her stories and analogies as if you were sitting across the table from her, sipping tea, laughing together, listening to the gentle strands of classical music during the lulls of conversation. And this in itself is a form of rest.
But in contrast to seeing all rest as “passivity,” as our get-up-and-go culture is apt to do, Vaughn reminds us that the real rest as Jesus promises is deep, soul-level rest that we can experience even in the midst of action and activity, while driving a carpool, giving a presentation, changing a diaper or changing lanes. She relates the experience of Chuck Yeager, the first pilot to break the sound barrier:
The small airplane started shaking violently. Jolting, swaying, heaving, Yeager hung in there, still pushing the throttle forward. The Mach needle edged up past 0.965, and then it went off the scale. The men on the ground heard a huge, thunderous bang. . . . Yeager was flying supersonic, something no human being had ever done. The plane’s shaking and heaving stopped. “It was as smooth as a baby’s bottom,” he said later. “Grandma could be sitting up there sipping lemonade.” Ease. Quiet. Peace.
This is the kind of peace we can have, says Vaughn, no matter what is happening overseas, or in our own backyard—and even when we are the ones called upon to intervene. That’s because the One who says, “Come to me, all you who are heavy burdened, and I will give you rest” is also the One who says, “All authority has been given to me on Heaven and on Earth.” He is powerful. He is love. He is rest. Come. Sit. Stay.
Ginny Mooneyis a freelance writer and Emmy Award-winning television producer.
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