“So you want me to use this turkey meat, but what seasonings do I add to it to make it into sausage?” my sweet husband called up to me as I was closing my Bible and about to make the bed.
“Uh…” I said out loud with wide eyes, thinking, I never measure the herbs and spices, if I try to tell him a guess as to how much to put in, it’ll be more than my brain can handle this early in the morning and he won’t know where to find half of the spices anyway… “How about I come do that for you?”
A few minutes later I was dressed and downstairs, and he had the ground turkey already beginning to sizzle in the pan.
It was Sunday morning and we were getting ready for church. My disposition was remarkably cheerful this week. Sunday mornings can be the most stressful time of the week when you’ve got two small children to get ready, a meal to prepare, toys to pack, Bibles to load—and if you’re homeschoolers, it’s also the only day of the week that you actually have to be out the door by a specific time. Having a history of emotional Sunday mornings is part of what inspired my husband to take over the breakfast prep for me several years ago. Usually it involves pancakes or waffles, but this week it was sausage. Either way, having such a servant-hearted man is an incredible blessing.
But on this Sunday I may have been particularly happy because instead of having to make lunch to bring along with us, I had bought a frozen lasagna the day before and all I had to do was pull it out of the freezer and take it along to our friends’ house. (Who says you can’t ever buy peace of mind?)
Anyway, I’d just pop it in the oven at our friends’ house. Yes, that’s where we were headed. For church.
You see, we are a part of a small fellowship that meets in homes. This week church happened to be at a house only ten minutes down the road from us (perhaps another reason for the minimal stress of our morning). Other than the three year old coming downstairs in a white polo shirt and having to be instructed to wear something different (because I could do the math in my head: White Shirt + Lasagna = Disaster), getting ready and out the door was pretty smooth sailing.
The boys hopped in the van, I buckled up the three-year-old, my husband grabbed his guitar, threw it in the back, and we were set. We got in our seats, closed the doors, looked at the clock, looked at each other, and thought, “We’re early!”
Yes, indeed. It wasn’t yet 9:45 and we only had a ten minute drive to make. Sure, we’d like to have left sooner (maybe one day we’ll get there), and 9:55 is hardly early when the meeting is supposed to start at 10am, but this was progress, and progress is worth celebrating.
To our surprise, as we pulled into the rocky driveway ten minutes later, we found the parking area in the back of the house already full of vehicles. Apparently we were not so very early after all. Oh, well. At least all I had to do when we got inside was turn on the oven and sit down on the couch.
Nathaniel found a chair and set up his guitar while the boys and I found a place on a couch next to my sister-in-law. After singing praises and scripture songs, my father-in-law taught from Mark chapter 8. I was quite tired and admittedly had a hard time paying attention to the first section of verses he covered, but then I woke up a bit when he got to Jesus’ call of discipleship at the end of the chapter.
“Many Christians like to borrow this metaphor of taking up our cross and apply it to trials, saying ‘This trial—whether it be cancer or loss of a loved one—is my cross to bear.’ But that isn’t what Jesus is talking about. Those trials are involuntary—they happen to you. Jesus is making a call to His followers to do something voluntary—to deny themselves and take up their cross and follow Him. Even those who don’t follow Jesus experience trials like illness and loss. Those things are common to life, and certainly there are instructions for us in scripture about those things, but here Jesus calls us to deny ourselves for His sake—to be willing to endure whatever loss comes, not as a result of being human, but as a result of following Christ.”
I mulled over these words, trying to mesh this understanding with my own physical trials—a pregnancy related autoimmune disease and issues that accompany both it and its treatment—even as we moved on to another teaching, and then prayer and singing. After the meeting ended, we enjoyed some good discussion on the subject during lunch, fleshing out what “taking up our cross” might look like—living in obedience to Jesus even when it brings persecution or ridicule, loving Jesus more than this life even though our neighbors might think we’re lunatics, loving the lowly like Jesus did, spending time with them rather than seeking self-promotion and pridefully distancing ourselves from the needy. Our time of fellowship lingered into the evening before we all went home to prepare for the work week ahead.
That night I couldn’t sleep. As often happens when I so desperately need some shut-eye, my mind kept wandering to lesson plans and books and other nerdy and exciting things. Then I began to think again about Jesus’ words in Mark 8. “If anyone will deny himself and take up his cross and follow me…” And then I thought about my father-in-law’s comment that taking up our cross is not an involuntary thing, but a voluntary thing. Despite the practical application we had hashed out over lunch, I still wondered about its application to my trials. So if it’s not the disease and pain that’s my cross to bear, I thought, What is it?
I nudged Nathaniel, who was not quite asleep yet. “You know how your dad said that taking up our cross isn’t an involuntary thing like cancer?”
“Well, I was just thinking about it some more, and I still have a lot of questions. But I was thinking: Okay, so maybe my disease and whatever pain or other symptoms it causes aren’t my cross to bear, but maybe my choosing to joyfully serve others, to serve the Lord, in the face of that pain would be.”
“That sounds about right. I think that’d be a pretty good application of it.”
“I guess I’d be denying myself the ‘privilege’ of feeling sorry for myself or grumbling, choosing to be joyful instead. And not just for my sake. But for others.”
After a pause I lamented, “That’s pretty convicting. That’s not what I usually do.”
We said our goodnights and my sweet, sleepy sounding-board husband drifted off as I lay contemplating this concept in light of the countless believers whose lives I have admired, and in light of Christ’s example. The people I have most looked up to for their faith and strength are those who have joyfully served others despite great physical pain, setbacks, and trials. The Lord Himself laid down His privileges, just in becoming a man! But even more so when He took upon Himself the wrath of God and the pain of public scorn and crucifixion, all the while praying, “Father, forgive them.” The cross wasn’t a hindrance to God’s plan, but the vehicle through which He would bring blessing to the whole world.
From what I can tell, my physical limitations and pains, should the Lord continue to choose not remove them, will be with me in this life whether I embrace them or not. So the ball is in my court: Will I shirk responsibility to respond joyfully and choose to grumble instead? Or will I take up the cross of humble surrender to the Lord’s will, seeking to rejoice in every circumstance and persevere in service to God and to others? On one side is a life of pain and inner turmoil with it. On the other is a life of pain overcome by the grace of God. One choice leads to bitterness and condemnation, the other to eternal joy and glory.
I let out a deep sigh, a kind of physical surrender to the supernatural peace of God that comes when at last we say, “Ok, I trust You.” And finally, too, a few moments later, I surrendered myself to restful sleep.
Here is what I read that evening from Elisabeth Elliot’s devotional, “Keep a Quiet Heart”, that prompted my late-night thoughts on this subject of taking up my cross. God is very kind to ordain even my reading schedule for His purposes and my benefit.
“The worst pains we experience are not those of the suffering itself but of our stubborn resistance to it, our resolute insistence on our independence. To be ‘crucified with Christ’ means what Oswald Chambers calls ‘breaking the husk’ of that independence. ‘Has that break come?’ he asks. ‘All the rest is pious fraud.’ And you and I know, in our heart of hearts, that the sword-thrust (so typical of Chambers!) is the straight truth.
If we reject this cross, we will not find it in this world again. Here is the opportunity offered. Be patient. Wait on the Lord for whatever He appoints, wait quietly, wait trustingly. He holds every minute of every hour of every day of every week of every month of every year in His hands. Thank Him in advance for what the future holds, for He is already there. ‘Lord, you have assigned me my portion and my cup’ (Psalm 16:5, NIV). Shall we not gladly say, ‘I’ll take it, Lord! YES! I’ll trust you for everything. Bless the Lord, O my soul!’”
~In the essay entitled Maybe this Year, page 51
I’ve many a cross to take up now,
And many left behind;
But present troubles move me not,
Nor shake my quiet mind.
And what may be to-morrow’s cross
I never seek to find;
My Father says, “Leave that to me,
And keep a quiet mind.”
~Poem by an anonymous author, page 52
“For those of us who are not at the moment in pain, may we not let slip any cross Jesus may present to us, any little way of letting go of ourselves, any smallest task to do with gladness and humility, any disappointment accepted with grace and silence. These are His appointments. If we miss them here, we’ll not find them again in this world or in any other.”
~ In the essay entitled Love’s Sacrifice Leads to Joy, page 68