Lay Your Burden Down
The Story of Jay Bastardo
Who is Jesus to me? Jesus is my everything.
At every stage of my life, whether I realized it or not, God has been exactly who I have needed Him to be—my Savior, healer, and friend; my protector, provider, and redeemer; my comforter, strength, and refuge. And lately, Jesus has been revealing Himself as my source of peace and identity.
It took a scary trip to the hospital in 2020 to begin to know Him this way, but you need to know more about me before I tell that story.
I started life in the Dominican Republic, where my family worked very hard for what little we had. My grandmother was the first entrepreneur I ever met, and man, was she a hustler! She always had creative ideas, and I was right there by her side.
Grandma was poor, but she never complained or focused on what she didn’t have; she just went to work. We did all sorts of things to make money: we bagged the charcoal we found on the ground. We cooked beans. We made hair products. And people came to our home to purchase these treasures. Grandma’s work ethic sowed an enterprising seed in me that thrives today.
My mother was a hard worker too. She came to America through a government program in 1994 and worked three jobs to make a better life for us. She fought hard to take me with her to the States, but it wasn’t possible at the time. She was forced to leave me in the care of my grandmother.
Being away from my mother was incredibly painful, and my heart still hurts when I think about it. No matter how much love my grandmother and other relatives showed me, nobody’s love ever felt like Momma’s. I lived with an enormous hole in my heart. It was difficult knowing she was so far away, and even as a young boy, I felt an urgent need to protect her.
Thankfully, God made a way for us to be reunited five years later. On May 26, 1999, I arrived in Newark, New Jersey. I came armed with five dollars that my aunt had given me. She told me, “Go be a man and make your mark on this world!”
And that’s what I set out to do from that day forward. I was 15 years old.
I had dreamed about this moment and my life in America for years. I was so happy to be reunited with my mother, but the perfect life I had imagined was not to be found. I hadn’t seen her in five years, and we’d both changed. She was now married and had another child. I hadn’t met her husband or my half-brother before the day I arrived. I felt very out of place and alone. Not to mention, I was a teenage boy wrestling with deep emotions and raging hormones.
And then I had to start school in a new place where I didn’t speak one word of English and I had only one pair of jeans that I wore every day. It was a cruel world.
One incident haunted me for years. It happened on the first day of school. I entered a classroom to ask a teacher—in Spanish, of course—if I was in the correct room. When he answered “no,” I assumed he spoke Spanish and continued speaking. No is, after all, a Spanish word.
Suddenly, a young Latina burst out laughing. I’ll never forget her mocking voice. “Are you stupid? Don’t you see that man doesn’t speak Spanish? You’d better learn the language!”
The way she spoke ignited something inside of me. I didn’t appreciate being called stupid or being challenged. I turned to her and replied in Spanish, “I promise you that I’ll be speaking better English than you before this year is over.”
I went home and got to work. I grabbed a dictionary, turned on the television to FOX and CNN, and put on the closed captions. Every day, I highlighted a new word from the dictionary and used it in a sentence as many times as I could.
All that work soon paid off. Six months later, the teacher in charge of the English as a Second Language program came into the classroom and promoted me to a regular English-speaking class in the presence of that girl. It was a very satisfying moment; her words had hurt me.
From that point on, I was determined to prove my worth through what I could accomplish. I would show the world who Jay Bastardo was and what he could do. And I’ve been working to prove myself ever since.
My story really is one of immigrant success. I arrived in the US at 15, worked crazy hours through high school, and went on to various jobs. I met my wife, Eridania, in New Jersey, but we were from the same hometown in the Dominican Republic. God brought us together in the land of our dreams!
I always knew I wanted to own my own business, be my own boss, and pursue the American dream. We moved to Greenville, NC, and eventually we bought a food truck on Craigslist. We called it Villa Verde—to honor our Dominican hometown and our new hometown, Greenville. God blessed that business, and today we have two beautiful brick-and-mortar authentic Dominican-food restaurants and a third restaurant serving good old Southern food.
We’ve worked hard to get here, and I continue to be driven by a need to succeed. I’ve accomplished much in life. Accomplishing things isn’t bad. The Lord wants us to reach our fullest potential and make the most of the opportunities He brings. But no matter how much I accomplish, it’s somehow never enough in my mind. What I’m learning now is that if my motive for doing something is for myself and not for God’s glory, then accomplishing it will come at a great price.
As far back as I can remember, I’ve felt this incredible responsibility to be successful, not just for my sake, but for others—my grandmother, mother, wife, children, staff, community, and more. This need to prove myself means I am in constant motion. For years, I have defined myself by what I do and how busy I am.
So you can imagine what a shock the worldwide shutdown of 2020 was to my system. The COVID-19 pandemic rocked my world. Always before, I could handle crisis. I worked harder so we didn’t lose what we had. I never backed down from a challenge—no matter how high the odds were stacked against me, I overcame them with commitment, determination, and hard work. I had started from nothing before, and I’d always found a way.
But COVID was different. People were dying. The disease came like a murderer in the night; it wasn’t a respecter of persons. I couldn’t work harder to fix it. I couldn’t implement a solution. I had no control. And people were dying! That terrified me.
As a business owner, I didn’t know what to do. Should I keep the restaurants closed, or should I open them for take-out? But if I opened them and one of my staff got COVID, was that my fault? And what if they died?! Inside, I condemned myself: “You’re a greedy pig, Jay. You only want to open to save your business and make money. It’s all you’ve ever cared about!”
Satan knew just how to push my buttons. I’d been hurt by those exact words in the past—from people I loved. So I decided to keep the restaurants closed. My inner self tormented me with that decision too.
“But I’m responsible for all these people and their families. Some have left their countries to work for me. If I don’t open back up, they won’t have money to pay their bills or send back to their families. Everyone will suffer because of me!”
Back and forth I went. I wavered so much that my mind became filled with chaos, doubt, and fear. For the first time in my life, I couldn’t see the way forward.
And that’s where the unexpected trip to the hospital came in. I experienced so much inner turmoil over these business decisions that I thought I was having a heart attack.
Turned out my heart was fine—I was “just” having a panic attack. What? Me, a panic attack? No way! “Only weak people have those,” I thought, “and I’m not weak. I’m a doer, a man of faith who overcomes obstacles. I mentor other people. I’m a provider and protector for my family and friends. I help the people of my community. I can’t have a panic attack. That’s just not me!” I felt so much shame and condemnation when I heard those words. (I think I’d have been happier with a heart attack!)
But I went back home and kept worrying about what I should do. Finally, I decided I would keep the restaurants closed.
And then my beautiful wife, Eri, spoke up. “Why don’t you let the staff decide, Jay? Find out how they feel about this.”
Well, why didn’t I think of that? We gathered everyone together to discuss the situation. Their response blessed me. “We want to come back to work,” they said. “The community needs us, and we need to be here too.” They even told me that if we didn’t have the money to pay them, they’d still be there for us. That night, we decided to move forward as a team, and we all rolled up our sleeves and got back to work.
My family and our staff pressed forward daily after that. But I couldn’t ignore the elephant in the room—I had gone to the hospital, crippled by fear and anxiety. Those emotions were still tormenting my heart and mind. Why was this happening?
The story I’ve told you so far has been about me—but my faith is also a big part of my life. In the middle of all my worry and indecision, I began to sense God inviting me on a journey to discover the answers to these questions and to better understand my true identity as His child. I’ve since stepped out into this journey, and the deeper I dive into my past, examine my belief patterns, and let God reveal His truths, the more freedom and peace I find.
I’ve lived under pressure so long that I’m not sure I would know how to live without it. I am well aware that my choices today impact people I will never meet on this side of heaven. I strive daily to live a life that my kids will want to model. The funny thing is that no matter how hard I try, I usually feel like a failure at the end of the day. And these failures taunt me. My response is to work harder and try to do better. It’s a weighty burden.
When God and I set out on our journey together, I remembered Matthew 11:28–30 (NIV), where Jesus says, “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.”
These verses helped me understand that the pressure I live under is not from God; it is self-imposed. His purposes for my life will never weigh me down, nor will they create anxiety, self-condemnation, or pressure. They also won’t invoke fear, doubt, or confusion.
If I am under these things, then I must be under something other than the will of God. There is freedom, peace, and order wherever the Lord is—not bondage, fear, and chaos. (See 1 Corinthians 14:33; 2 Timothy 1:7; 2 Corinthians 3:17.)
I’m not responsible for everyone’s life outcome. Each individual is accountable for their own choices. I’m also not responsible for being everyone’s provider and solving their problems. That’s God’s job. And my taking on these responsibilities is me trying to play God.
Here’s a fresh revelation: I’m not God! I can’t tell you how freeing it is to let go of that responsibility.
That doesn’t mean God doesn’t want me to care for others. I am His hands and feet on this earth, and I am called to serve and give. But He is teaching me that I’m not responsible for people; I am responsible to them. My role is to live a life of integrity and to operate in my giftings as I serve, love, and honor those around me.
To put it simply: God is calling me to focus on being, not doing.
The greatest thing I can do for others is to be a surrendered child of God; the rest will take care of itself (Matthew 6:33). He calls me to trust Him (Proverbs 3:5–6) and release my loved ones to His care. God loves my family and staff more than I do, and His plan and provision for them will not fail.
I’ve already told you that my motive for doing has been to prove my worth. But the Lord has also revealed the driving force behind that motive: fear. Deep down, I need to prove I am somebody because I am desperately afraid that I am nobody.
If I fail, I’m afraid I’ll prove that what my classmates, a former boss, and even some family members said about me was right. They said I’d be poor and never amount to anything, that my ideas were stupid, and that I’d fall flat on my face. I strive because I’m terrified that what they said will become my reality. I also fear I’ll fail my wife and children.
But a fear-based, performance-driven life is not what God intends for His children to experience. That’s Satan’s desire. God has never asked any of us to prove our worth.
Before we accomplished one thing in this world, He exchanged His Son’s life for ours (John 3:16). The Lord’s love for us has never been based on what we do but on who we are—His children. And what we do isn’t what pleases Him either. It’s how we trust Him that matters (Hebrews 11:6).
I’m thankful for these revelations and all the others. And I am committed to allowing the Lord to work in my life. I do want to experience His freedom and rest, but I’m finding that a learning experience too.
Like I’ve said, I work nonstop. I have for years. I don’t understand people who don’t want to work or who give excuses why they can’t work. But God is teaching me that working nonstop isn’t His intention either. Rest is good, and God commands us to do so. It’s the fourth commandment. Even God rested from His work (Genesis 2:2–3).
Still, if I’m not working, I wrestle with feeling guilty, lazy, and unproductive. I feel like I’m not being a man and providing for my family. The Lord is helping me work through these patterns of wrong thinking. He is teaching me to find balance in my life—not just for me, but for the sake of my family.
My constant going keeps my loved ones on the move too. And the pressure I’m under seeps into their lives whether I intend it to or not. We are all weary. My wife and teenage son work ridiculously hard and long hours. Our family bounces from restaurant to restaurant, event to event.
As you can see, I am learning much about myself and the why behind my what. And I am sure God will have a lot more to show me in His time as He helps me become who He created me to be. I’m excited for God to transform me into a new person as I change how I think. Then I’ll be able to experience His will, which is good and pleasing and perfect. (See Romans 12:2.)
Perhaps today, you are under heavy burdens and being attacked by fear. Like me, you’re afraid that people’s words and thoughts about you will come true. God wants to help you be free of your burdens and escape the turmoil. Jesus’s promise of rest is for you too. Lay your burdens down, my friend. Right here at Jesus’s feet.
JAY BASTARDO is on mission to discover his identity in Christ. He and his family serve their community through authentic Dominican food and heartfelt service while living out God’s agape love to the world.