It doesn’t seem to matter how long I’ve been a Christian, how many times I’ve sung about carrying my cross or read the Passion narratives, coming to grips with the fact that God could no care less about my American dreams has never come easy and probably never will. You’d think I would know better. It’s not difficult at all to find a verse in the Gospels where Jesus is reminding His disciples that following Him means carrying the same Cross He would.
And God always seems to know where to hit you, too. He knows where the sucker punch will be felt the most. Are you getting arrogant about having a lot? He’ll strip you of it. You have a hard time forgiving people? He’ll put you in a place where you desperately need forgiveness. Worried about your finances? He’ll make sure you always make just enough to keep you on your toes and force you to either trust Him or go crazy. Control freak? He’ll orchestrate an entire life around you that is uncertain and seems as shifting as quicksand. You complaining about something you ought to value, like your children, your wife, your job? He’ll take whatever He needs from you till you realize what an ass you’ve been.
But even as I type the previous paragraph, I know why He does it. What good is an American dream if the person experiencing it can’t appreciate it? What good is it being rich, powerful and in control if, at the end of the day, you are still spiritually stupid, fat and lazy – if you can’t look inside yourself without hating what you see? There’s this passage in Les Misérables where the poor priest at the beginning of the book looks up at the sky, and it says he pondered how the serenity of his own heart reflected the serenity of the night sky. God wants us to be rich, healthy, and surrounded by paradise, but not if it means sacrificing our very souls to get it.
Still, Jesus agonized in Gethsemane, did He not? And if God has the right to admit that His Cross is hard to bear, I think a mere mortal like me can gripe every now and then. But I remember often one of my favorite Old Testament passages about Moses when those times come.
Moses, in one of his many conversations with God, heard God finally compromise with the sinful, wicked Israelites. He said He’d grant them the Promised Land. They could have the fields flowing with milk and honey, but He wouldn’t join them. They were too stiff-necked, too stuck in their ways. He’d let them have the world, but they wouldn’t have Him. But Moses, with insight that probably grew considerably over 40 years of wandering around with God in the desert, wouldn’t have it. Essentially, he said, “If You don’t go, we won’t go.” And why?
Because the Promised Land isn’t the Promised Land if God isn’t there. And refusing to carry our crosses is another way of saying we don’t want God in our lives, in the same way that taking up our crosses is another way of saying we want Him as close as possible.
I don’t like my cross. I hate my cross. I think it stinks. But if taking it means I come closer to God and closer to what I was meant to be, then God willing, I won’t just carry it, I’ll embrace it.