An Easier Way to (Inner) Work

By Chelsea Logan

March 8, 2024

Article, De Pree Journal, Marketplace Leaders

Have you ever seen a meme or GIF that perfectly describes how you feel in a certain moment or about a certain thing? Maybe it’s the millennial in me, but I really love receiving and sending GIFs. There’s something deeply satisfying about being able to both comedically and accurately capture a feeling or reaction in a tiny animated clip.

When I think about inner work, there’s a GIF that instantly comes to mind. It’s a GIF that perfectly illustrates how I have felt in the past about doing my inner work. You can see it here. But in case you can’t view it, the video is of a man, seemingly defeated and exhausted, slowly collapsing onto the floor where he remains still, unable to get up. For a long time, the idea of doing my inner work made me feel exactly like that man: defeated, exhausted, and in need of a nap.

I’m aware that my response is a bit adolescent, but that GIF really does reflect how I felt. For so many of us, we are already exhausted by the daily demands of our work, relationships, and schedules, which makes taking on one more thing feel entirely overwhelming. Especially something like doing our inner work, which requires introspection and intentionality—and therefore energy, focus, and, the most precious resource of all, time. In other words, sometimes the invitation to do our inner work feels like too much work. And if that’s you, you’re not alone.

“Sometimes the invitation to do our inner work feels like too much work.”

The Weight of Our Inner Work

But what if our inner work didn’t have to feel so hard, so burdensome? What if our inner work didn’t feel so much like work?

This past fall, our De Pree team gathered for a few days to do some team building. One of the most valuable experiences from those few days was a facilitated workshop around the Working Genius assessment. If you’re unfamiliar with it, it’s an assessment that helps identify a person’s work-related geniuses (the things that energize) and frustrations (the things that drain).

And while this was technically considered “work,” it didn’t feel like it. In fact, the time spent evaluating our team’s geniuses and frustrations felt life-giving to everyone. We were able to see what makes each other tick, what kind of work gets us most excited, and what makes us burn out quickly. We laughed a lot, listened intentionally, and shared our honest thoughts. In the end, this work was so relational that it just felt easy.

I imagine this is how Jesus wants to journey with us through our inner work: relationally and with much more ease than we are used to. Inner work should fill us up to have more rather than empty us of the little we have left. So then why doesn’t it always feel that way?

I think Matthew 11:28-30 (NRSV) can help us understand why inner work can feel so hard, as well as give us an imagination for how it can—and should—feel different. In this passage, Jesus says,

Come to me, all you who are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, 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.

There’s so much here, but let’s start by recognizing how perfectly and simply Jesus diagnoses how human beings feel: really tired and holding way too much. I like the way The Message paraphrases verse 28: “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion?” These words get right to the core of how we feel as humans, regardless of our station in life. Whether you’re a CEO or work in the mailroom, whether you’re single or married, whether you’re a new believer or a seasoned one, the reality is that we all carry burdens that can feel like too much for us, our spiritual lives included.

The burdens we carry take all kinds of forms. For example, some of us take on the I’ve-Got-This-Yoke—the one that tells us we have to do it all with minimal to no help (including the help of God). The I’ve-Got-This-Yoke makes us think we can master our lives, including our relationship with God, by our own efforts. Others of us carry the Shame-Yoke—the one that assures us that our mistakes and failures have made us bad and worthless. This yoke leaves us in hiding from God, others, and often ourselves as we avoid confronting truths about who we are to spare ourselves the weight of our shame. Still, others of us bear yokes of perfectionism or past sins, regrets, and mistakes. The list goes on.

So here we are: really tired, overworked, and worn out. Oh, and all the while lugging around heavy loads that are close to crushing us, if they haven’t done so already. And it’s in this condition that we are supposed to get it together and do more work? And not just mindless work—but penetrating and sobering work. Looking deeply at why you are quick to anger or struggle with greed is not exactly easy. Our human struggles with defensiveness, envy, dishonesty, and pride are far from light. How can we willingly take on more difficult work and not fall to the floor like the man in the GIF, exhausted and defeated?

Swapping Out Our Burdens

To answer this question, let’s look back at Matthew 11:28-30. Here, Jesus gives us a new imagination for how we do our inner work with a simple suggestion: Swap out your burden with his. Trade your heavy, crushing burden with Jesus’ easy and light one. Not only does he ensure it’s an easier load to carry, but he actually promises that his way will bring rest.

Jesus gives us a new imagination for how we do our inner work with a simple suggestion: Swap out your burden with his. Trade your heavy, crushing burden with Jesus’ easy and light one.

But what makes his burden so light? Why is his better than ours? Putting this passage in its context can help bring clarity. Remember, Jesus is speaking to a Jewish audience, a group of people who have been bound by all sorts of laws. Sure some of these laws were good and right, but some laws were added on, expanded on, and even twisted by the people who were supposed to be their spiritual leaders. Put simply, the spiritual weight many of the Jewish people carried was heavy as they worried about upsetting God or not meeting God’s standards.

Sound familiar? So many of us fear the same things. In a recent simple survey we conducted here at the De Pree Center, participants noted that one reason why they don’t readily want to engage in their inner work is because they are afraid to face God and themselves. Our burdens often come with fears of disappointing God and others, and feelings of failure and inadequacy. We carry intense weights of guilt and shame for what we’ve done (or left undone) that create relational barriers between us, God, and others.

This is what Jesus was and still is speaking into. This is why he offers a burden that is light. He declares, “For I am gentle and humble in heart” (11:29, NRSV). Jesus is telling us that the one with whom you can entrust your heavy burdens is in the business of helping us shed weight, not adding more on. Doing our inner work with Jesus means we don’t need to fear our shame—he takes it away. Doing our inner work with Jesus means letting go of our fears of angering or disappointing him. He loves us and wants us to come to him just as we are: broken, greedy, prideful, angry, and envious.

Again, I love how The Message puts it, “Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you.” The invitation is to work with, not for Jesus. He’s not a demanding and easily angered boss. This work we do with Jesus is marked by perfect love, which leaves no room for fear (1 John 4:18). He’s our friend. And when we take on his load, it’s not crushing. Doing our inner work with Jesus is relational, and done with someone who is more gentle and humble than ourselves.

Doing our inner work with Jesus is relational, and done with someone who is more gentle and humble than ourselves.

Going to Jesus

For most of us, our response to laying down our burdens and taking on something lighter is likely a very loud, “Yes, please.” So how do we do it? How do we actually swap out our burdens with his?

The answer, in true gospel form, is actually easier than we think. Jesus tells us, “Come to me.” Our first step in doing any inner work is to go to Jesus. Be with him. Take on his “unforced rhythms of grace.” Sure, this could look like starting each day in prayer and in Scripture. But this also looks like waking up and telling him, “I love you, Lord. And I’m also too exhausted from being up with my sick daughter to do a quiet time today.” It could be participating in a Lenten fast, but it could also be confessing, “God, I am weary of the legalism I put on myself. I am not going to fast but instead enjoy the freedom you offer.” These are not just acceptable responses, but deeply relational, spiritual responses. Going to Jesus does not require our “best” spiritual selves. Instead, Jesus calls us to him just as we are: tired, worn out, and burned out. And this is the beauty and heart of the gospel, that doing inner work with Jesus is freedom. And that when we finally do come to him to do that inner work, burdened and all, he swaps out our burden with a better one—and promises that much-needed spiritual nap.

Chelsea Logan

Content and Production Lead

Chelsea Logan serves as the Content and Production Lead for the Max De Pree Center for Leadership. She holds a BA in the Study of Religion from UCLA and an MA in Theology from Fuller Theological Seminary. Chelsea has worked in various ministry settings, taught high school for multiple y...

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