When I first starting going to a small group -- which is code for a small group of people who meet to study the Bible, pray and talk about God -- three years ago, I slid happily into the role of the stupid-question asker. As a new Christian, a lot of things befuddled me. I didn't understand the language, the symbolism, the conclusions others seemed to draw so naturally between scripture and everyday life. People talked about God's will for their lives, and I wondered, 'How are you ever supposed to know what that is? Can you ever know? Does God really want us to figure it out?' Most of the time, I felt unafraid to verbalize my general confusion and ignorance. Maybe it's because I'm a journalist, or because I just like learning things, but my way of becoming a Christian, of understanding what that means, was to ask a lot of dumb questions and to really marinate in the answers.
So I guess it shouldn't be a surprise me to click over to Jennifer's site, Et Tu? today to see my question in response to her post posed as a new post for all the masses to see and answer. My question was about the phrase "carrying your cross," something Jesus demands of us directly in the Bible. He says, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it."
The phrase always has confused me, especially because Christians so often refer to it so casually. I look at my own life, and think, "What cross am I supposed to take up daily?" What does that mean? Does it mean to accept whatever suffering comes my way? That makes some sense because obviously the cross is a symbol of suffering. What then about denying myself? That seems to be the first step. What exactly am I to deny myself? And what's this about losing my life? How do I go about losing my life? It seems somewhat absurd to think about.
Jennifer does a great job explaining her take on all of this. To her, it's about taking the inconveniences and pains you encounter on a daily basis and USING them to bring more love into the world. That, I take it, is the following Jesus part of the equation. You should really click to her site to read the full response, but this is the part I really like:
Make the conscious choice to trust that God not only can but will use this situation for good, even if the ways he will do that are not immediately apparent to me.
She goes on to explain what the opposite of "carrying the cross" is. To her, it's about falling into self-pity or worry or trying to control life. And complaining. That's a big one for me. I was once voted The Complainer in a swim team mock awards vote. I tend to voice my opinions, and yeah, they're not always making the world a bright and shiny and happier place. And I don't think I've once taken a situation that was frustrating for me and thought to myself, "How can I use this to serve those around me? How can I love others despite this icky, annoying situation?"
I need to work on that, and of course, I'm not alone in that struggle. It's everywhere and in every one of us. I think back to when I first found out I was pregnant, and I wish I could have been more positive right away, that I could have "carried that cross" with more grace. (Although now it's seems wrong to even think of Luke as an inconvenience.) I don't want to look back and judge myself, because I do believe the mixed feelings I felt were natural. I just think it took me a tad too long to turn to God completely and say, "OK, you want this. And if it's what you want, it's what I want, too."
As a Christian, I'm a slow learner. I see God changing me so much, but at the same time, sometimes it feels like I'm stuck in the mud, not moving at all. I stop practicing the spiritual disciplines. I become entirely focused on myself and lose sight of what it means to really live a Christian life. I collapse into periods of worry and control. I forget to pray, I don't read my Bible, I let myself sin without worrying much about the consequences. Sometimes, this idea of "carrying the cross" seems almost too advanced for me. I'm just trying to do the little things. I'm just trying to get to know God, to serve him in little ways that don't really shake my out of my comfort zone. I'm just trying to pray more. But really, maybe carrying the cross is what it's all about. Maybe that's not a destination to reach eventually, but rather a starting point.
I don't really know. But I like the idea of it anyway.