Take Up Your Cross
We've been going to a family prayer meeting every Thursday night for many, many years. There is a man there I've watched for nearly as long. I watch him because, at almost every meeting, he can be seen standing somewhere near the front holding a very large wooden cross. I know him well and my views about this action have evolved over the years.
In my younger years, I saw him as a zealot. I knew he loved to do street evangelization, the kind that involves praying over complete strangers...in public. My thought was, "Whew! I'm so glad God didn't call me to do that!" I didn't have a problem with him, I just thought he was a little, well, crazy.
This evolved into a much more practical viewpoint. The man is a carpenter, more accurately, a true artist with wood. His work can be seen in many churches. He has carved everything from Crucifixes to coffins, all of which are stunning. Maybe, I thought, he carries that cross as an advertisement. Yeah, that's probably it, I figured for myself. Made sense.
And then, for a long time, I stopped watching him. This was largely in part to the fact that I was spending most of my time in the prayer meetings corralling three small children. Honestly, those days I think the prayer I prayed most went something like, "Please Lord, let this thing end...now." I didn't have time for anything but the task at hand.
Over the last several years, God has been working on me a bit. He has, much to my original chagrin, called me to...gulp...evangelize others. I have, in fact, prayed over a complete stranger, in a public place. Feeling this desire to bring others closer to Jesus, knowing God was working on changing my heart and my call, has given me a totally new respect for the man who carries that cross...still.
Funny, how in all these years, all these attitudes, I've yet to ask him the question. I'm not sure what's stopped me because he would tell me without hesitation. Maybe I feel like a decision like that is too personal to pry into. Maybe his answer would be so simple that it would negate all the time and energy I've spent watching and wondering through the years. Whatever the case, I haven't.
Tonight though, I caught him in the act. We were all quiet in the meeting. The goal was to spend some contemplative time with the Lord. The lights were low, the music soft, the room peaceful. I had come in late after picking the boys up from golf lessons, so I was using the time to rest and recenter. I was trying desperately to quiet myself long enough to listen to God rather than chatting Him up as is my norm.
I was staring at a cross on the stage, not praying, not talking, just being. And that's when I saw it. He got out of his seat when everyone else was sitting. He walked over to that gigantic cross and picked it up just like he always does, like he always has, for as long as I can remember. Except that tonight, instead of surmising yet another reason for this act, I felt a nudge from the Lord.
"You see him? He's taking up his cross. He didn't wait for someone to give it to him, he made a very conscious decision to pick it up on his own. "
God often speaks to me as if He's writing The Spiritual Life for Dummies. I'm a slow learner in most things spiritual it seems.
It wasn't rocket science. The man was taking up his cross just like the Bible tells him, and the rest of us, to do. Tonight I finally got it. If someone had walked over and handed me that cross in that moment, I would have been a bit perturbed that my restful time was interrupted. I would have tensed up some muscles in my frustration and that cross would have been hard to handle. Most likely, my face would have demonstrated that.
As I watched him, that's not what I saw. He walked toward that cross in total peace. He picked it up and held it and that look never left his face. He was doing more than holding that cross, he was embracing it and it was beautiful.
"Perhaps," God gently nudged again, "there is a lesson here. How much smoother would your life be if you chose to take up your cross and follow me?"
I have spent most of my life on the "follow me" portion of that scripture. I have all but ignored the whole "take up your cross" aspect. I know that my life will have crosses to bear. I've already carried a few. Suffering is inevitable as long as I am on this earth (thanks for that Adam and Eve). In almost every case, when I look back, I can see the good. Each cross has brought growth. Hindsight helps in seeing the hidden blessings. And yet, how much more growth, how many more blessing would there be if instead of shirking that wood, I embraced it?
Suddenly, it's not about the man actually carrying that cross, it's about his conscious decision to pick it up. This realization made me want to leap out of my seat and tear it from his arms. "Dude, I need that peace I see on your face, gimme that thing!" Somehow, I don't think that would achieve my goal. That's his cross to carry, not mine.
Now all I have to do is muster up that same enthusiasm for the crosses God puts before me. I have to find the strength and resolve I need to go ahead and pick it up before someone just lays it on me.
We all have some kind of cross to bear. His might be holding that thing in public. Mine has something to do with holding a gigantic baby whose drool and snot are smeared on the shoulder of my shirt. Yours, well, you know what it is. I don't need to tell you.
I'm thinking maybe, just maybe, if we choose to embrace our cross, we may be able to avoid knocking someone over with it.