On Labor Day I took my son to a ball game. Seems like ages ago, now. A different season altogether.

 

He was eleven then, twelve now, my firstborn, the best boy I’ll ever know. He relishes travel, smiling all the way there and back wherever we go. We got up super early on Labor Day, stopped for breakfast, then drove three hours through early-morning traffic and quiet country roads and the gentle urban squeeze of downtown Cincinnati. We got to the stadium ninety minutes before game time so we could wander (our favorite ballpark pastime). We took smiley selfies outside with the stadium in the background, smiley selfies in the centerfield stands with the field in the background. I took a picture of my son sitting by himself in the front row of the leftfield stands as he gazed out across the field. Then I sat beside him. Best seats we’ve ever had. I brought my glove. It was idyllic.

 

It was also hot. Our good seats meant we spent the entire game in the sun. The heat index that day was like 415 degrees, as I remember it. We watched the Reds lose in a half-empty stadium to a Mets roster made up mostly of reserve players. We sweated profusely for four hours. We occasionally went into the concourse for shade and drinks. After lunch I offered my son some Twinkies, and he declined, saying it was too hot for Twinkies. I considered calling 911.

 

The Reds lost 5–0. We saw two exceptional plays by the Reds leftfielder just below us, but otherwise the game was unremarkable. I never got to use my glove. We stopped at a convenience store on the way out of town and bought as many drinks as we could carry. We drove home through dark country roads and pulled in around ten. I sent the boy to the shower and contemplated the literature I needed to read so I could teach it the next day. I did not relish the next sixty pages of Pilgrim’s Progress.

 

And for a split second, sitting there at my desk, I had this thought: It would have been better to rest today.

 

I hadn’t meant to think that. But there it was.

 

I was weary that night, and I still am. That’s not a complaint, only a fact. I am weary of politics, as we all are by now. I’m weary of pervasive hate and violence. I’m weary of the day-to-day work of being an adult, of getting the kids ready for school and ready for bed, of grading papers and meeting deadlines. Of not sleeping enough.

 

For that brief moment on that September night, I let weariness tarnish a precious day. I got to go to a game with my son—what kind of jerk finds that sort of thing burdensome?

 

Well, this kind of jerk, apparently.

 

Last spring and summer I served on the planning committee for Colleagues College, a two-day gathering of the faculty at my university before our fall semester begins. Our theme this year was reflection, renewal, rest. We solicited feedback from the faculty afterward, which was almost entirely positive, perhaps because we all crave those qualities we talked about.

 

But one comment sticks with me: “Colleagues College was, as usual, mostly a waste of time.”

 

My initial reaction: What kind of a jerk…? Okay. Let it roll off.

 

The comment resonates now, though, and I’m thankful. It convicts me that my idea of rest – a day spent doing nothing – might be faulty. The person who wrote that comment did essentially nothing for two days at Colleagues College: he/she attended presentations planned and delivered by other people, ate food prepared and served by other people, followed a program designed by other people. He/she had no responsibility except to attend. It was a two-day respite from work, a time for fellowship and reconnection, a time when more than two or three were gathered in Jesus’s name. Sounds restful to me.

 

And yet, that comment. It was ungracious, self-focused. Of course I can’t read someone’s soul in a single sentence, but I detect more restlessness than restfulness there.

 

I also detect my own unrestful thoughts that night after the baseball game.

 

In Matthew 11, Jesus says to the crowd, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 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. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” In so saying, Jesus does not offer his followers a day off, a blissful period of inactivity. Strap in with me, he says, and let’s prepare a field. We are invited to join him in his work and in doing so to find rest for our souls under the guidance of his hand. Nowhere in his teaching does he instruct his followers to sit down and do nothing.

 

Well, super. I find myself tempted now to say, “Fine. I’ll just define my busyness as restful. Done.”

 

But, no. To take the yoke Jesus offers, and thus to find rest when under his direction, means that I consider from his gracious perspective why I’m doing what I do, that I reflect on how my activity might serve him in the various callings he’s given me.

 

He offers rest for my soul in meaningful activity, the ordained expenditure of energy.

 

His instruction to “take my yoke upon you” calls me to make a move. It takes no effort to lament that I’m busy and physically tired. Weariness organically becomes my default setting, the yoke on my shoulders that makes everything else heavy. It takes initiative to reject that default setting and instead to embrace those around me.

 

Jesus lends his perspective with that yoke he offers. My burden is lightened because under his gentle direction (in this case, a nudge: take the boy to the ballpark) my energy is spent where it should be. And when I forget that perspective, he has the grace to remind me that I rest when I serve others well, when I love well.

 

After my son took a shower that Labor Day night, he came to me as I sat at my desk. Perhaps he read my fatigue, my grim contemplation of homework and a week full of doing things. Perhaps he didn’t.

 

But he said this: “You know, Daddy, I think the most important part of childhood is when a parent and a child do something together like we did today.” He paused, then said, “I think if we didn’t do that kind of thing, we’d grow distant from each other. I don’t want that.”

 

And just like that: rest. Not the absence of fatigue, not the absence of expenditure. A presence. Something I could choose to embrace.

 

I hugged my wise-beyond-his-years boy and told him I loved him and that I was so glad we got to go to the ballgame. What I didn’t say, and couldn’t: my soul had been weary because I had failed to see the day for what it was: not a busy day off, but a day on, a holy day. What kind of a jerk.

 

Many things, political and otherwise, have changed since Labor Day, but not my weariness, and probably not yours either. And yet, there are people around us who need to be loved – it’s tempting to say “more than ever” here, and though that’s not true, at times it feels like it is. In this season of Advent, and in this season of weariness, I want to find rest in meaningful embrace, in loving those around me who stand most in need. I can’t reach everyone, and neither can you, but if I love those within my reach, and you love those within yours, well, maybe this is how the field gets planted.

 

All of this will require effort, movement, which won’t always feel restful physically. But for my soul, yes, and for yours, there will be both rest and peace if we redefine what it means to rest under the yoke we’ve been so graciously offered.