I massage the back of my neck after laying my son down in his bassinet. Three months of nursing and constantly looking down to check on him has worn my weak neck muscles. I stretch out my neck and shoulders one more time then walk towards to the kitchen to begin preparations for the day, but my muscles find little relief.
I look down as I mix oatmeal and scramble eggs.
I look down as I rinse the same dishes I washed yesterday.
I look down (and bend down) to help my daughter go to the potty.
Laundry. Emails. Another nursing session. In only a few hours, my neck and shoulders are even more tense than before I massaged them that morning. Wearied, I sit down on the couch and look down once more, but this time at my phone. Even if it strains my neck a little more, maybe my brain will receive some relief as I scroll, tap, and skim.
“Mommy, will you look at me?” my daughter says, standing right in front of me with her princess dress, fairy wands, and messy blonde curls.
Then I look up. And I feel guilt over all the time I spend looking down that I forget to look up at those around me. I put down my phone and dance with her to her favorite Disney songs, but my mind continues to consider all the things that keep my eyes down. While my daughter and son need me to look down sometimes as I take care of their physical needs, they also need me to look up into their eyes, to play with them and to talk with them.
It’s not only my physical eyes though that are often lowered; it’s my spiritual eyes as well. I can be so easily discouraged by my “navel-gazing,” looking at myself so long that I can see each imperfection. Try as I might, I can’t seem to change my bad attitudes or negative thoughts on my own. And no matter what the voices around me say, I know deep down that I am not enough. Even when I look to others, comparing my life to theirs on social media, I’m often left in either despair or pride. These realities make my soul wearier than my neck.
The audience of the biblical book of Hebrews knew this weariness. Their cultural heritage included more than a thousand year tradition of sacrifice that reminded them each time they came with an animal to the temple that they were sinful and unable to cleanse their sinful hearts. The blood shed that day would only clean them on the outside and would never take away the guilt in their hearts. But when Christ came as the better temple, high priest, and sacrifice, he did away with the Jewish sacrificial system, offering his body once for all to bear the sins of many (Hebrews 10:12).
Yet when faced with trials and suffering, these Hebrew Christians still struggled with returning to the religious regulations of their ancestors. They wearied themselves by going back to the law when they had freedom in Christ. What encouragement did the author of Hebrews believe they needed? Stop looking around or within and instead look up to Jesus.
The author exhorts them: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1-2).
Like this early Hebrew Christian church, I am tempted to return to patterns of legalistic rule-following and people-pleasing. In these exhausting newborn days, I am constantly looking in to myself for goodness and looking out to others for approval. Yet I have already been made perfect by the blood of Christ and have approval from my Heavenly Father. Like the tension in my neck, I feel tension in my heart when my spiritual eyes have been trained inward and outward instead of upward at my High Priest sitting on the throne.
Today, I take the time to look up. I look up from folding laundry to look in my daughter’s eyes and laugh at her funny story. I look up from cleaning bottles to smile at my son. But I also look up from my own efforts to make myself perfect, from my anxious toil. I look up to Jesus who has already made me perfect and is still working in me to make me more like him. And when I look up, I feel my neck relax and the weight lift off my shoulders—and heart.