It was a tense pause–an obvious break in our free flow of conversation. We stumbled into it, but the reality was clear. In that particular place and situation, my counselee faces a cross. Our talk reminded me of another conversation, some 2,000 years earlier, that probably contained a similar pause; “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 and the gospel’s will save it” (Mark 8:34-35).
The concept of carrying a cross is so significant, Jesus’ words here are recorded in three of the Gospels and alluded to in the fourth. The theme echoes through all his teachings. Those who are mine, Jesus says, will carry a cross.
The idea of a cross is shocking. It is strange to us, but the crowd Jesus commended it to would have been stunned. When Jesus spoke about his followers taking up crosses, they had not yet seen him carry one through the roads of Jerusalem. Crosses were instruments of torture. They represented the worst kind of punishment the Roman Empire could inflict on an individual. No one wore crosses as symbols around their necks, or used them as decorations on their walls. Crosses were frightening. They were heinous vehicles of gruesome torture. Crosses were for dangerous criminals, not average people. Why would he call them to carry one?
The disciples didn’t understand what Jesus meant, and this cross-related conversation seems to make them uncomfortable. When Jesus starts talking about his own impending death on a cross, Peter has had enough.
“Far be it from you, Lord,” Peter says, “This shall never happen to you.”
Jesus immediately sets Peter straight; “Get behind me Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man” (Matthew 16:22-23).
Jesus’ message is plain. His cross will serve as a thing of God, the path he will use to redeem mankind for eternity. It has a higher purpose that supersedes the pain it represents. Our personal crosses can serve as things of God too. They are places of brokenness where self-reliance comes up short. We have little power to change the crosses we’re called to carry. We can, however, learn to pick them up and follow our Savior in those places.
How do we identify personal crosses? First, we must understand we will have them. Jesus says crosses are to be expected. There are many different kinds of crosses people bear. It’s helpful to consider some basic categories.
Some crosses are physical. Individuals born with disabilities carry crosses. The mom with breast cancer carries a significant cross, as does the survivor of a drunk driving accident. Illnesses of all types represent crosses. Some are quantifiable, while others, like mysterious auto-immune disorders, are crosses that are composed of both pain and confusion.
Other crosses are situational. Parents who have lost a child carry a searing cross of grief. Spouses who have been betrayed by their mate carry crosses of personal rejection. Children of divorced couples often carry crosses of unwarranted guilt and shame. Those who are single or have lost a spouse may carry crosses of loneliness. Couples who struggle with infertility face an ongoing cross of loss.
Less obvious crosses often occur in relational places. A young wife who has to deal with domineering in-laws and learn to move forward has a cross. Working for a critical, explosive boss involves carrying a cross. Abuse survivors carry scars that remind them of their crosses. Injustice, family turmoil, and broken friendships all represent crosses. Every marriage has a cross and usually many of them. When we forgive others there is always a cross, because we agree to give up and release a debt.
Why did Jesus call us to carry a cross? When we bear heavy crosses, we rely on God most. Where we are hurt and weak, and where we deny ourselves, we learn to depend on Christ.
We also depend on the fact that the cross was not the end of Jesus’ story. His resurrection is! Christ brings incredible beauty out of crosses fully surrendered to him. When we trust him, we acknowledge that God is able to do “above and beyond what we can ask or imagine,” with our crosses (Ephesians 3:20). Carrying a cross wisely requires faith and learned dependence.
Crosses are places in our lives where we can give God great glory. Despite the pain and hardship they represent, we should keep on looking for them, picking them up, and through Christ, learning to carry them. Embedded deep in the texture of those crosses is life and hope.
Fieldstone Counseling exists to share lasting hope for life’s hardships. Donations to our ministry allow us to provide that hope to all who seek it. Would you consider donating to this ministry of hope and help today? All contributions are entirely tax-deductible and can be made through our website at fieldstonecounseling.org. Thank you!
Crystal is a Christ-follower, wife, mother, counselor, and friend. She is passionate about connecting others with the truth of God's miraculous power and sustaining presence.