When I moved to Africa, everyone always had a final parting word or piece of advice to share before saying goodbye.
“We’ll be thinking about you and praying for you.”
“Can’t wait to hear from you.”
That last one always made me smile, as if luck has anything to do with it. But I get it, saying goodbye is awkward, and sometimes you just say what you’re used to saying. I sincerely appreciated every single word offered by every person who took the time to say the hard goodbye, completely understanding that often words feel inadequate compared to the emotion behind them in the moment.
I remember one time, when this guy was saying his parting phrase to me, he just smiled real big and said, “Have fun!”
Nobody had said that one to me yet, and honestly, it felt a little out of place at the time. It’s not like I was going to a theme park or a birthday party. I remember thinking, why of all things, would you tell me to have fun? He’d even lived as a missionary in Africa, so I thought maybe he’d have something more profound or at least more serious to say.
But it’s funny, I don’t remember any of the specific parting words that most people said to me. But I remember his. And he was right. Looking back, that was actually some of the best last-minute, two-word advice I got.
Because Africa is a hard place. It’s a place where you can get burdened and heavy and weighed down. Buts it’s also a place where people laugh and love life and live fully even though their days may be hard and short. It’s a place where creativity is indigenous and culture is rich and beauty is shared. It’s a place where people really enjoy each other. It’s a place that is loud and vibrant and creative and rhythmic and…well, fun.
Following Christ is the same way, I think. If you focus on the hard stuff – the religious rules and the pursuit of perfection, you can get totally side-tracked and end up burdened by striving and imprisoned in self-righteousness. Things Jesus never intended. I think that’s something he might have been tying to teach us when he said, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
In other words, if you are feeling weary and weighed down, maybe you are carrying a load you weren’t created to carry.
The truth is, knowing Christ is the world’s greatest treasure. Walking with him is our highest possible pleasure, following him brings us fullest possible joy. Oh so frequently does the Bible talk about delighting in him and rejoicing in him! The story of his salvation for us is the happiest tale there is, and we are living it. There is no earthly happiness that could compare or even come close to the holy, satisfying contentment of being in relationship with him.
The Lord knows my tendency to swing towards seriousness, both in my life in Africa and my relationship with him. That’s why I think he sent that guy to me and spoke to me through him, saying, Lighten up, Ashli, and enjoy the journey. Enjoy me. Have fun.
I was reminded of this story just this week, and even though it happened over five years ago, I can still hear that guy telling me to have fun. He was right, Africa is a fun place, and I love it here. But this week I was getting way too bogged down in serious stuff. Life brings serious stuff and calls for seriousness at times, but it’s when we start to break under the heaviness of it, like we are the ones supposed to be carrying the weight, that the Lord leans in and reminds us that he is strong, that he can carry it, and that his yoke is easy and his burden is light.
So as strange and maybe even unfitting as it sounds, I wonder if that’s the best advice I can give today. Have fun following Jesus. Be joyful, be thankful. Put the weight that you carry on the shoulders of Him who is Strong, for it is no burden to the Creator and Sustainer of all things, and he is fit to take care of it.
Come to me, all you who are weary and 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. Matthew 11:28-30
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