Friday, June 29, 2012

Taking Up Our Crosses


"Jesus says:  'If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him ... take up his cross and follow me' (Matthew 16:24).   He does not say:  'Make a cross' or 'Look for a cross.'  Each of us has a cross to carry.  There is no need to make one or look for one.  The cross we have is hard enough for us!  But are we willing to take it up, to  accept it as our cross?

Maybe we can't study, maybe we are handicapped, maybe we suffer from depression, maybe we experience conflict in our families, maybe we are victims of violence or abuse.  We didn't choose any of it, but these things are our crosses.  We can ignore them, reject them, refuse them or hate them.  But we can also take up these crosses and follow Jesus with them." ~ Henri J.M. Nouwen

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If I were to cast a poll asking "Do you enjoy taking up your crosses?" I'd be surprised if anyone would answer in the affirmative. The crosses that we bear may seem - no - may be overwhelming and cause us great pain and grief. What is your cross? Nouwen offers a few examples. Perhaps we are handicapped, suffer from depression, experience conflict in our families, or are victims of violence or abuse. It is as if the late Catholic priest and author was speaking directly to me. I suffer from depression and anxiety, which is often a handicap. I am experiencing conflict in my family, and I have been a victim of abuse in the past. Maybe your cross is the loss of a romantic relationship or the loss of employment. I hope for myself and for you that these things do not hound us forever, but while we are experiencing them, it would do us well to continue to be spiritual people in the midst of them.  Anyone can do that, regardless of how heavy our crosses.  

How do we follow Jesus? I am no longer a Christian but I can still undertake this practice. I can love God and love my neighbour. What is God, anyway? The Bible says that God is love, so the statement "loving God" is rather redundant. I love God by loving love rather than hate or exclusion or divisiveness. And I can love my neighbour, just as Jesus did. Like Jesus, I am called not to shun the people around me who face sickness or poverty or loneliness; rather, these are the people Jesus would want me to love.  Perhaps the crosses that we bear are there for the purpose of being able to stay close to God - Love - and to relate to the pain of our family or friends or neighbours.

I am not convinced that we have to carry our crosses forever, but while we do, why not turn adversity into an opportunity to love more abundantly.