Have you ever heard the phrase carry your cross? Have you ever wondered why carrying some burdens seems impossible? I know I have. In our work with people, through counseling, we see a lot of people with burdens far too heavy to carry. Due to the weight of these life events, they have fallen under the pressure of those hardships and are so exhausted they sometimes cannot move forward.
You may or may not know this story, so let me remind you. The God of the universe came down and became a man. His name was Jesus. He was sinless and did nothing wrong in the eyes of his father. He was humble and kind. He fed the hungry and ministered to the outcast. He was friend to the widows and the orphan. He healed the lame, caused the blind to see, and even raised his friend from the dead.
This same man went on to be whipped, abused, violated, betrayed, mocked, shamed, and eventually hung on a cross, in one of the most painful ways to die ever created.
In between his wonderful deeds and his death, Jesus had to walk A LOT. He walked from town to town sharing the good news of the gospel and teaching people to love God and love one another. As morbid as it may sound, fortunately for us, his last footsteps were towards a place called Golgotha. This was the hill where they crucified him. These were some of the hardest steps a human ever took. He not only did it after being whipped and tortured within an inch of his life, but he had to carry two large wooden planks in the shape of, yeah you guessed it, a cross. He had to carry the physical representation of what would kill him up a hill, through his people, to his death.
Matthew, Mark, and Luke all record Jesus asking us to, “Take up your cross and follow me.” In light of the death of Christ, what does this mean? Let us start with what I think it is not. It is not a crummy job, flat tire, or a loud neighbor. It is not low income or our insecurities. Although those things can be difficult, our crosses are things that we choose to carry for Jesus and may actually cause us to die to ourselves. These crosses might cause physical, emotional, and spiritual death. They might cost us our jobs, friendships, or our status. They will certainly cost us our pride.
These crosses dig into our shoulders and cut and bruise us. These crosses make our legs weak and our bodies bend. They threatened to end us before we get to the end. Before we can even get to the top of our hill, they crush us under their weight. Taking up our cross is a burden of the highest pain. It is labor and effort in the most exhausting of ways. This is not being nice to someone who is mean or giving a homeless person 5 dollars. This is not giving your tithe or serving on the deacon committee.
These crosses are more like forgiving your abusive father. They are like reconciling with the person who murdered your brother or letting go of the anger towards your rapist. They are praying for your enemies and loving those who persecute you. Sharing your story to help another and the truth of the Gospel even when it hurts. These crosses come in all shapes and sizes, but you can believe that they are painful and heavy, but just like the one Jesus carried they lead us to deliverance. They lead us to a death of self, but also freedom.
When we die to ourselves we make room for the impossible to happen. For the miracles of today to burst forth and for us to have room inside for the Holy Spirit to cleanse and clear out old scars and wounds. This type of grueling task sharpens and refines, it prunes and sanctifies. It shapes us into the image of Jesus and makes us transcend the pettiness of hate and bitterness.
All of this sounds hard I know and I am still a work in progress myself. The good news is that Jesus gave us a human example of how to get this done. I know for myself these crosses are heavy and I have to put them down and start over and over again. On the way up the hill, Jesus, due to his wounds and the weight of the cross, fell to his knees dropping it to the ground. The Gospels record that a man named Simon stops to lift the cross of Christ and help him carry it the remainder of the way.
Hopefully you can see my point, but in case it is lost in the flurry of words and feelings; at times we need other people to help us carry our crosses. This is not a weakness, but a necessity. We need a community of people who love us and are willing to walk through our pain and our problems. People who are willing to see us as good, unique, special, wanted, and needed. When we are going through depression and anxiety because we were abused, when we are trying to reconcile our marriage or fight for custody of our child, we need people to advocate and help us physically, emotionally, and spiritually. We need people when everyone around us sees us as a liar, hypocrite, deserving of punishment, to come along side us and love us more than we deserve.
This is the power of Love. This is the grace that God calls his children to display. When things are dark and our crosses are heavy, we need others to take up their crosses and sometimes our crosses, and follow Jesus. Even if that means to death. This death can lead us to a new understanding of life and a passion to start helping others carry their crosses up the many hills that life puts in our way.