Apr7TueApril 7, 2020
So what exactly does it mean to take up your cross and follow Jesus?
Some people trivialize the concept by claiming every hangnail or stubbed toe as their “cross.” Remember – the cross is the instrument of our crucifixion, not merely the cause of a minor annoyance.
Others feel guilty when they recall Christ’s invitation to take up their cross and follow him because they can’t think of any suffering big enough to make them feel worthy of calling it a cross. Sometimes this makes them wonder if their Christ-following is too casual and if that is the reason they have not yet been called to suffer for the sake of Christ. Some even look with envy at those who suffer for Christ’s sake and have the grace to take up that suffering as a cross. But this too is an unhelpful distortion of what Christ is teaching.
The Way of the Cross is not marked so much by the intensity of our suffering as by our willing choice of God’s way over our way – no matter what distress we are experiencing, what hardship we are facing. God’s way will always present us with choice points where we must decide between self-preservation and self-renunciation. Choosing self-renunciation, is taking up our cross, because it always involves loss and will often occur within the context of suffering.
Taking up my cross is accepting whatever affliction I experience – no matter how great or small – and inviting Christ to walk alongside me as I carry it. It is meeting the suffering Saviour in the midst of my suffering and allowing myself to be touched by his grace. Taking up my cross is accepting self-denial and sacrifice as a part of my daily life as I follow Christ. Walking this sacred Way of the Cross allows me, therefore, to participate in Christ’s suffering. But more, it puts my suffering in perspective and gives it meaning, because at the end of Way of the Cross is the resurrection.
When I think of the crosses in my life, I think not so much of the big crises where I felt great pain and distress as of the small daily choices of self-renunciation that lead to a loss of the life of my kingdom of self.
A colleague publicly lashed out at me this week for something I did not do. An equally public defense was impossible at the moment, so I quietly suffered the abuse and attempted to restrain my anger. After the incident I tried to approach him to clarify the misunderstanding. But he was unwilling to either talk or listen; he hurled further verbal abuses at me and then walked away.
I was confused and hurt. I couldn’t understand what had upset him so much, and I was angry at the injustice of the situation. I felt like a victim, and I didn’t like the feeling.
That night as I was prayerfully reviewing the day to see where I had been aware of God’s presence and where I had not, I suddenly saw the incident in a wholly new light. Rather than being an incident of abuse, it was a cross. I had a choice. I could feel like a victim, or I could deny my “right” of self-defense or retaliation and walk the Way of the Cross. I could meet the suffering Saviour in my small affliction. Jesus, better than anyone, knew what it was to suffer injustice and public humiliation. His presence was uniquely available to me in this experience of my cross.
I had a choice. But suddenly encountering Christ in the midst of this situation made the choice easy. I chose to take up my cross and follow Jesus.
My response to this epiphany of encountering Christ while walking through an ordinary day was to send my colleague an email the next morning, apologizing for anything I had done to offend or upset and again offering to talk further about it if he wished. A small step of self-renunciation both led to and flowed from a resurrection moment of finding true life.
There is nothing very dramatic about this incident. I share it because it is so ordinary. But its very ordinariness is the reason it is so important. If, as Luke urges, we are to take up our cross daily (Luke 9:23), our cross must be things that we encounter regularly.
Some people take up the same cross day after day – physical or mental illness, the consequences of abuse, poverty, or unrelenting loneliness. Many others, like me, do not have to bear these major burdens but must similarly be prepared to embrace things we would never choose. Being unable to change these things, we have only two choices: to rail against them in anger or embrace them and turn to God for help in coping with them and meeting Jesus in them.
Taking up our cross requires that we accept the realities of our life that we wish were otherwise. As Richard Rohr reminds us: “God is found in the actual – not in the idealized.” There is no need to change the circumstances of our life, even of our heart, in order to meet God. But we must first accept reality. God is far too real to be found anywhere else.
Written by David Benner - Desiring God's Will