As my father in-law sat at his wife’s death bed, he confessed the two prayers he had to the priest who later performed the burial service for my mother in-law. The first, he wanted to be present at the moment when she passed. After a life of ‘for better or worse’, he wanted to be there for the ‘death do us part.’ His second prayer, he asked God that he may take her time in purgatory. He wanted his wife to forgo the painful cleansing process and whatever “time” she would have spent there, he wanted it added to his time in purgatory. I spent weeks thinking about those two prayers, especially the latter. In that one sentence, he redefined the ends to which love should go.
What I didn’t tell you is the events leading up to her death in 2015. For almost 30 years she suffered from Alzheimer’s. . There was no side effect from that horrible disease that escaped her. For the last 10 years at least, she was unable to speak or move independently. Despite the need to hospitalize her, he refused because he felt that would expedite her digression. So he kept her at home until last few years. During those 10 years, he alone would feed her, bathe her, brush her hair, and attend to all the personal hygiene needs we’d rather not think about. Not once did I ever hear him complain. He is, without a doubt, the closest thing to a “living saint” I’ve ever known.
If you have ever seen or spent time with someone who has dementia, you know it can take a heavy toll on the care taker. One of the more common phrases I’d hear when speaking about how he dealt with his wife year after year was that this “was his cross to carry.” This is not an uncommon phrase, in fact, as Christians this is a phrase that gets used quite often as it relates to life of Jesus Christ. In the book of Matthew (and Luke), we read the following:
“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself,
take up his cross, and follow me.”
What Do I Think Is My Cross
As I think about the times I’ve heard that phrase, or even the times I myself have used it, I can’t help but be reminded of the quote Inigo Montoya says to Vizzini in The Princess Bride… “You keep using that word (phrase), I do not think it means what you think it means.” So, when have you used that phrase? What burden were you under when you thought about it as a cross?
I think there are three primary things that trigger that phrase. I’d bet at some point in time we’ve each made reference to them as a cross we had to carry.
1. YOUR FAMILY: Similar to the story of my father in-law, I would venture to say there are times (maybe not that extreme) when you feel the burden of your spouse, your children, your parents, siblings, etc… are so heavy on you and you feel out of love, you need to carry that burden.
2. YOUR CAREER: I think it’s safe to say we are not all 100% happy with our jobs 100% of the time. There are people, projects, consultants, and bosses we endure because it provides us with a paycheck, a roof over our family’s head and food on our table. Out of necessity and love for our family we carry this burden.
3. YOU: Do you struggle with depression, anxiety or anger. How about certain sins that you seem to confess every time you go to reconciliation? Have you had to struggle with a physical ailment like a problem with thyroids, diabetes, cancer, or any type of degenerative disease? These can feel like the heaviest of burdens as these are the most outside of your control.
These things can feel like a struggle or a burden and in turn we can reference them as “the crosses we must carry.” However, this is not the Cross that Christ makes reference to in scripture. Instead of considering these things as a cross, think of your family, friends, career, and the “qualities” that make you who you are as the elements that effect your journey or create the path to which you carry your true cross. They can determine whether that path is smooth and easy to traverse (because your work, home, and personal life can be all in order) or make it feel like your walking uphill in the snow with no shoes on (because your work, home, and personal life feel like a complete disaster).
The path we each take to the Kingdom of Heaven is different and each leg of that journey is as equally unique. However, the cross that Christ asks us to carry on that path is very much the same.
What IS My Cross
So, what does Christ mean when He asks us to take up our Cross? Put simply, He wants us to walk the path and endure the journey as a Disciple of Christ. To walk in His footsteps. To listen, love, forgive, and have mercy just as He did. Our circumstances will change as our family, friends, career and even yourself evolve over time, but how we deal with all those things should not change. To act and react like Christ, that is the Cross that never changes, no matter who you are or what part of the journey you’re on.
Let me leave you with description, not written by me, that I think explains it perfectly.
The die has been cast. The decision has been made. I have stepped over the line. I won’t look back, let up, slow down, back away or be still.
My past is redeemed, my present makes sense, and my future is in God’s hands. I am finished and done with low living, small planning, the bare minimum, smooth knees, mundane talking, frivolous living, selfish giving, and dwarfed goals.
I no longer need preeminence, prosperity, position, promotions, applause, or popularity. I don’t have to be right, first, the best, recognized, praised, regarded, or rewarded. I now live by faith. I lean on Christ’s presence. I love with patience, live by prayer, and labor with the power of God’s grace.
My face is set. My gait is fast, my goal is heaven. My road is narrow, my way is rough, my companions are few, my Guide is reliable, and my mission is clear.
I cannot be bought, compromised, detoured, lured away, turned back, deluded, or delayed. I will not flinch in the face of sacrifice, hesitate in the presence of adversity, negotiate at the table of the enemy, ponder at the pool of popularity, or meander in the maze of mediocrity.
I won’t give up, shut up, let up or slow up until I have stayed up, stored up, prayed up, paid up, and spoken up for the cause of Christ.
I am a disciple of Jesus. I must go until He comes, give until I drop, speak out until all know, and work until He stops me. And when He returns for His own, He will have no difficulty recognizing me.