Then He said to them all, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it” (Luke 9:23-24, NKJV).
I was thinking about the verse above this morning and asked myself, "What is my cross to bear?" Is "cross-bearing" just about persecution? Or is it something more? Jesus said the above words right after he asked his disciples who they thought he was. Peter said, "The Christ of God." (Luke 9:20) And Jesus immediately commanded them not to tell anyone and followed that with the news that he would suffer, be killed and rise again on the third day. This would quite literally be his cross to bear. It had a purpose (our redemption and eternal salvation). But he had to put aside his desires and endure excruciating pain, rejection, and humiliation so that we might be saved. Jesus then lets his disciples know that to follow him, they also had to deny themselves by taking up their cross "daily." As Jesus' disciples, this also applies to us. But what does it mean to deny myself and what, more importantly, is my cross?
My cross is probably different than yours, and it has gotten heavier over the years, but it is something that I am only now learning to take up daily. It does, however, have a few chunks missing where I dropped it a time or two. It has, at times, been painfully heavy to bear, but for the most part, it has stayed with me. My cross has been trying to teach me for over 30 years not to complain about it. I have failed miserably at this and had the splinters to prove it. Each one reminding me of where I failed. By complaining about my cross, I haven't been a good witness or "cross-bearer" to my children. By thinking about my burdens, I have become bitter over what my life was like, compared to what it is now. Cross-bearing is not for the faint of heart. That's why Jesus told us first what it could look like.
But I have learned that not everyone bears the same cross. And not everyone has realized they are even carrying one. Some people look at the problems in their lives and say, "Why, me God?" And they blame God for everything that is wrong with their world. Others say, "Why not me?" And take up their burdens and push on toward the day when they can stand before God and hear Him say, "Well done, my good and faithful servant."
I don't want to be someone who keeps dropping my cross on the ground because it becomes too heavy. I want to keep my eyes focused on Jesus and be one of those people who says, "Why not me?" So today I sat down and drew a cross. And on that cross, I placed the burdens Jesus told me to give to him. But something strange happened. I realized while I was doing this, that my burdens were also my cross to bear. Yes, Jesus said, "Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28). But he followed that with, "Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls" (Matthew 11:29). In other words, we can learn from our burdens. We can grow into the people God intends us to be if we daily take up our cross and follow Him. And we can find rest and fellowship with God even when life is difficult and stressful.
This is what my cross has looked like over the years:
Like I said, my cross to bear is different than yours. But it is mine to bear. I have an incurable disease which makes me gain weight at an alarming rate. It is resistant to diet and exercise, and it is called lipedema. It also affects my lymphatic system, so that it doesn't work correctly. Currently, I have stage 3 lipo-lymphedema. Right now I have congested tissue in my legs that is heavy and about as big as a five-pound bowling ball on each leg. It is like this because my lymphatic system is shot. To control my lymphedema, I must sit for an hour a day in something called a lymphapress (think blood pressure cup, but for your legs). It squeezes my legs to get the lymph fluid moving. It is a very painful process, but when the lymph fluid doesn't move it builds up into congested tissue (hence my bowling ball legs!). It is excruciating to walk, yet that is one of the suggested therapies for me so that the lymph fluid will move. However, at the same time, I am told the best way to control the lymphedema is to sit with my legs elevated. So, for the most part, I am stuck in my house all day with my legs up, because leaving them down for too long is quite painful. And walking on them to get the lymph fluid moving is just as bad. What a conundrum! I can no longer put my socks and shoes on by myself because I can't bend my legs. Nor can I clean my house as I used to (some might say that's a blessing), but when dust builds up it drives me crazy!
All that to say this - sometimes the troubles in our lives (especially if you have a chronic illness, debilitating disease or even a terminal one) can be all that we see, and we forget that others are suffering too. We forget to join in with the living because we are so bowed down in just dealing with life. While my cross to bear is a painful, incurable disease, my husband's cross to bear is (sad as this sounds) taking care of me. He is the one who now has to do the work I used to do, like the laundry, cooking and cleaning. While I try to do what I can, it isn't long before the pain overtakes me and I have to quit. Adding yet another burden to his cross, which adds guilt to mine.
We all have a cross to bear. Some of those crosses are horrific, and my heart cries for those of you suffering under the weight of them. Maybe, like me, you were looking at your problems with the wrong perspective. Cross-bearing is not just about being persecuted for your faith. It is also about how well you can stand up under the weight of your cross. Will you give up and say, "Sorry, God but this is too much!" and throw down your cross? Or will you continue to carry it, despite its weight? Knowing that every day that you do so, you testify to God's saving grace and you grow a little bit more like Jesus.
Not sure what your cross is all about? Download the PDF below, fill in everything that is a burden to you. Give it to Jesus, then take up your cross daily, and follow Him without complaint.