Years ago I really struggled with the Christian notion of “taking up the cross.” It seemed an indictment to self-sacrifice, passivity and misery. I really didn’t get it.
At age eight, I knew I had a cross to bear in my mom’s alcoholism. And then later in my dad’s drug addiction. So I knew a thing or two about sacrifice and misery. Why then would I sign up for more of the same? To celebrate in the name of Jesus? I didn’t get it. I basically thought Christians were simpletons or fools or both.
I just listened to a podcast sermon given by a pastor of a LA based church whose five year old daughter was diagnosed with a tumor the size of a football. You could hear him choking up as he spoke. He talked about Jesus being a rock and refuge in times of despair and that God gives and takes away. There was nothing simple about this sermon. On the contrary it was rather complex, as is the deepest of suffering. This man’s faith did not negate his feelings of overwhelm and sorrow at his daughter’s life threatening condition but he also knew, we all have to take up our cross.
I have stopped feeling resentful about this notion of taking up the cross because my entire understanding of it changed when I experienced the grace of God. We take up the cross because Jesus took it up for us and in that, we have the sustenance to do the same for others. It is not an act of selfless co-dependency but rather a choice inspired by love. Once I experienced God’s love, I was no longer running on empty, giving to others but not completely full myself. Not only that, my perception of what I’ve experienced in life dramatically altered, as did my thoughts about my basic circumstances.
Being a therapist, I’ve known for a long time that we all suffer and that we all need kindness and compassion. And for the most part, I’ve been glad to reach out to others serving in this way. But the real difference in me, is that when the s—- hits the fan in my life, I no longer move to a place of resentment as my knee jerk reaction. Instead, I see that nothing I experience compares to the sacrifices that were made for me and through this miracle, I am restored and whole. And that becomes the template from which I can ride the ups and downs of my existence. It’s the difference in being a victim or having a choice. For me, taking up the cross is a choice that ultimately empowers me vs. leaving me there a doormat with life walking all over me. Because for me, the cross is more about love than suffering. More a gift to self and others than an act of self-deprivation. Because in this process of finding God, I’ve never felt more touched or loved after years of feeling empty and lost.
“At the cross You beckon me
You draw me gently to my knees, and I am
Lost for words, so lost in love,
I’m sweetly broken, wholly surrendered.”
What a priceless gift, undeserved life
Have I been given
Through Christ crucified.” Jeremy Riddle – “Sweetly Broken”