A young man has just had a difficult conversation with his best friend, and he’s devastated. His friend told him, in a very blunt way: “All you think about is yourself. You’ve hurt and disappointed your family and friends. And to tell you the truth, you’ve hurt me for the last time!”
We don’t like to hear unpleasant things, especially when these things are about ourselves, or the people we love. But sometimes we have to hear the painful truth. And although it may seem as if we have just been punched in the stomach, it can be the beginning of a change, or a break in a bad pattern. An experience like this can also can also affect the way we think and that can make all the difference.
Here’s another example:
A woman says this at a family gathering after her father’s funeral:
“One of Dad’s last gifts to our family was to say to us this past Christmas, ‘You know, this will be my last Christmas with all of you.’ It was hard for us to hear this, but he was able to say it because of how confident he was in Jesus’ promises to him. He didn’t fear death. And it was actually a blessing for all of us, as well. We were able to care for him and love him in a better way. We also were able to strengthen our relationships with each other and avoid all that crazy family drama.
The truth we don’t want to hear—but need to hear. “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” The truth we don’t want to hear—but need to hear. St Peter didn’t want to hear it—about the suffering and other unpleasant things that Jesus said were going to happen to him when they got to Jerusalem. “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall happen to you.” That’s Peter’s response. And it would probably be ours, too. But Jesus knows something that the others do not: That it is often through pain and hardship that we grow in compassion and love. Somehow we pay more attention to God when we are in the midst of some kind of loss, especially if it is the kind of a loss that is most unbearable. Yet for those who rely on faith, you begin to see that in all of the chaos God may have some greater purpose.
But before we take up our cross, we have to do something first: deny ourselves. This doesn’t always mean giving something up. But what it does mean is that we say “no” to self, and “yes” to God—to dethrone self and enthrone God. When we are able to do that, the next part—the taking up of the cross makes way more sense.
God is not trying to take away from us as much as he’s wanting to give to us. So we must ask for God’s help when we make important decisions in life. When we say “yes” to God and “no” to ourselves we will find that we are a path to newness.
Here’s a great quote about decision making in the light of our faith journey:
“In every decision of life, we are doing something to ourselves; we are making ourselves a certain kind of person; we are building up steadily and inevitably a certain kind of character; we are making ourselves able to do certain things and quite unable to do others. It is perfectly possible to gain all the things we have set our heart upon, and then to wake up one morning to find that we have missed the most important thing of all.”
So the cross that we are asked to take up has a call connected to it. It is really an invitation to increase our faith, hope and love. To be patient, have courage, and to forgive. It’s also an invitation to accept your limitations.
Whatever the call, there is always some reason that will eventually make sense to us. Our response can determine whether we save our life or lose it, whether we take up our cross or run from it.