Every year, in Lent, we hear Jesus say,"If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me."
Well, I for one am tired of it. I'm tired of hearing about crosses; I'm tired of taking up crosses; I'm tired of carrying crosses; I'm tired of losing my life to save it. Even though almost every cross I've ever had to carry is a cross I've constructed by my own sin, my own stupidity, my own failure, I'm still tired of it. I've just about had enough.
I'm ready for something else, something like: "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." (Matt. 11:28). I feel like I'm weary and burdened and I want some rest. I think others feel the same way, others who are as burdened by life as it is lived in this time and this place as I feel. I need some refreshment because sometimes the hard wood of that cross is so heavy that it doesn't just cut into my shoulder, it cuts into the very depths of my soul until I feel like I am, truly, truly dying.
It wouldn't be so bad if I could carry a blazing cross for Jesus with words of triumph and glory on my lips, like Hugh Latimer, (1555) who, as they lit the fire to burn him at the stake, said: Be of Good cheer, we shall this day, light such a candle by God's Grace in England as shall never be put out; or like Perpetua, (203 a.d.) being mauled by wild animals in the Roman arena, who said: Stand fast in the faith and love one another, do not let what we suffer be a stumbling block to you.
Maybe I could carry the cross of martyrdom, if there were some glory in it. The problem is that there are few public places for glorious martyrdom these days. The crosses Jesus calls me to shoulder are so mundane, so ordinary, so simple. I'm not willing to take up Jesus' cross, but I'm always willing to shoulder the crosses I create.
I pick up crosses like: the bills, the children's problems, problems with relatives, friends, my work. I worry about these things and say that they are crosses I have to bear. And, even though at times they do weigh down my soul and my spirit and my very being, these things are not crosses at all. They are simply life. They are our lives as we live them. They seem like crosses because they cause us to focus on ourselves.
The more we focus on ourselves, the more we focus on how heavy the burdens or crushing the crosses are, the less we can deny ourselves. Instead of denying ourselves as Jesus calls us to do, our inward focus only serves to make the crosses seem bigger and heaver, and keep us further from Jesus' cross.
The cross of Jesus goes beyond these false, inward focusing crosses. When Jesus calls us to deny ourselves and take up our cross, it is a call to face outward, away from ourselves, no matter how urgently our own problems call us to focus on them and ourselves. Jesus is not calling us to deny our problems, avoid them or pretend they don't exist. Jesus is calling us to give them only the attention they deserve, and shed them as the false cross which keep us focused on ourselves
Jesus is calling us to take up a cross that lets us focus outward with love, care, commitment, devotion to God and our fellow humans despite our own fears and problems.
The weariness I feel with Lent and its crosses is simply a reflection of how poorly I'm able to forget myself and focus on others. Every time Jesus says, "Take up your cross," it's a reminder that I haven't shed my false crosses; a reminder that I still seek myself -- not God; a reminder that I am too busy hopelessly trying to save myself to let God save me.
Yes, I'm tired of Lent and of taking up crosses. I'm too burdened with false crosses to take up the real cross – too busy with myself to deny myself and find others.
Perhaps, realising that and trying to keep it in mind is the first step to shedding a few of those false crosses that can make Lent and Life such a wearying and burdensome time; the first step toward taking up a cross of self-denial, a cross of outward focus, a cross that truly does lead to glory.