Some days I am convinced I am a complete and utter fool, seeking to journey forward under a burden I was never meant to bear. And meanwhile, I leave behind that which I am meant to carry with me.
The words are simple enough– lay down your burdens. Take up your cross.
I am continually frustrated and disgusted by my own failure to follow even these simplest of words. I look at my burden– tasks I was never given, responsibilities I am not supposed to carry, worthless treasures, guilt and shame that have already been carried for me, sins I have already been given freedom from– and somehow I think it will make a beautiful addition to my back. You know how we are– we decorate our burdens with puffy paint and glitter and pretend they’re supposed to be there. We look at other people’s burdens of stuff and power and control and we actually envy them. But inside, they’re all the same. Garbage. Heavy, rotting garbage. Garbage that we’re supposed to be free from.
We take up these burdens and in the process we dislodge the cross we are meant to carry. The cross, we think with distaste. It’s not pretty. It’s rough and splintery and carries with it a stigma that we don’t like. There is absolutely no way to disguise a real cross. Those beams of wood set me apart– they identify me with Someone.
I say I wanted to be identified with Jesus, but I lie. Because I refuse the cross. I add a puffy-painted “I Heart Jesus” to my burden and maybe a gold cross keychain to the zipper. I might deceive myself this way. I might deceive other believers. But I never deceive the One who carried a cross Himself.
Here’s the thing. That burden, no matter how much I cover it with Christian symbols, no matter how much I fill it with my own ideas of personal holiness and Christian service, no matter how trendy it looks, how well-decorated it is, how much it deceives others into thinking I really must have all the answers and have it all together and I really just am surely the very epitome of godliness, — that burden is heavy and harmful. It daily destroys my ability to walk with God. It distracts me from pursuing my Savior. It never is full enough, no matter how many idols I stuff into it. It crushes me and leaves me hopeless, fearful, ashamed, and desperately alone.
I am not called to carry a burden. I am called to carry a cross. That cross lacks the sparkle and the glitter and the social acceptability of the burden; it is an instrument of torture and cruelty. But the cross is where Jesus is.
If I want to know Jesus, if I want to have more of Him in my life, if I want to walk with Him, then I’m going to have to go where He is. And He is there, bearing my cross with me. His yoke is far easier to carry than anything else, because He is there in every moment carrying it with me.
This is where I meet Jesus– I meet Him in the suffering of the cross, in the living sacrifice, in the splinters and the nails and the stigma and separation that come from truly identifying with every part of His life and humiliation and dying. Without this fellowship of His suffering, how can I ever expect to know the power of His resurrection? The joy of new life? The glory of daily seeing His face?
I am meant to lay down my burden and exchange it for a cross, but there are days when that cross seems far too heavy for me to bear. There are days when the burden calls me with all its shiny pretty deceitful promises of ease and pleasure and success. There are so many days when I run from my cross– and from the Savior– and snatch my burden back up.
This is the ugly truth. Most days I would rather have pretty much anything besides the cross. Most days I would rather attempt to forge my own way to contentment, peace, joy, fulfillment, and satisfaction. Most days I attempt to fill the deep yearnings of my soul for Jesus with everything but Him. Most days I live in denial, thinking I can find God without following the way He provided.
But the cross– and the Savior who suffered there– calls me back. Because when I stand for a moment and truly look, when I stop my mad frenzy to fill my burden with more stuff, I discover that here, at the cross, is where I know I’m loved, precious, chosen. This is where I see the high cost that has been paid for me. I cannot stand here long– I fall prostrate here before this wondrous, indescribable love. This Savior who calls me to a cross instead of a burden, He has gone before me and He goes with me. He meets me at the cross, every single day. He saves me from my own ridiculous attempts to find satisfaction and peace, every single day.
Look at Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of your faith. Lay down the burden again. Take up the cross again. Find the beauty of knowing your Savior in the fellowship of suffering. His love has provided this most excellent way.
If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.