We always hear about the need to take up one’s cross and follow Christ and, if we call ourselves followers of Christ, well we should. However, with all the focus on taking up one’s cross, there has been a failure to ask a very important question, which is, “What is your cross made of?”
The Answer at First Blush
Wood, of course, is the answer that most folks will serve for this question, noting that there is no definitive source as to what kind of wood was actually used. Speculations run from pine to a combination of pine, cedar, and cypress and the list goes on. Whatever the type of wood, we have to be careful to avoid assuming that our initial problem in taking up our cross is to find which cross belongs to us. In other words, we each have a cross with our name on it; some will call that cross a burden, but that would be putting an overtly human negativity on the whole concept, don’t you think?
Instead of looking at our cross as a burden, we can view it as a mission, a calling to complete. Conversely, we may consider our cross an opportunity to serve God, and I think that would be moving in the right direction. I would like to think that we should try to view our cross as a privilege to serve and bring glory to God through following the example of Christ. Viewed in this way, the cross becomes an instrument, not of death or pain but, rather, of glorification to God.
My cross should be a bridge which helps me traverse and transcend my human limitation in that service. It should be a ladder which helps me to climb from my vulnerability, weakness, and sinfulness to the heights of serving the Almighty. That cross should be a tool through which I can carve Christ’s love into a world ever ready to ignore or forget that love.
From the above discussion it should become clear that, before we can identify which cross is ours, we must identify what raw material we bring to the table, for our cross will surely be built from that very same material. If we bring business talent, then our cross will be struggling to use that talent to serve God and others. If we have a unique talent for teaching, then our cross will be striving to teach others about Christ, not only directly but, just as importantly, by the way we teach our particular field, be it law, medicine, history, or math. Some of us may be called to teach others about Christ directly, as in catechism or theology, but others may be called to teach business, medicine, history, or law from the perspective of how to follow God’s Will and Word in those fields. Are you a great public speaker? Perhaps your cross will be made of that speaking talent, used to spread the Word of God to others.
Simply put, the most effective way to find our particular and unique cross is to discern our particular and unique talents, from which that cross will invariably be made. God has given each of us a unique set of skills, talents, aptitudes, traits, and characteristics which together form the material of our assigned cross. Viewed in this way, as composed of what we can do, our cross becomes the opportunity to make a difference.
Those who view the cross as a burden are making the foolish mistake of approaching the cross from a selfish angle. When we view the cross as some annoying burden that we have to undertake, as an obstacle in the way of an easier existence on this earth, we are truly wasting and staining what our cross should truly be about. The cross is not some detention or punishment to be done with; it is the fulfillment of what we have each been called to do.
Since our cross is unique to our talents and gifts, it stands to reason that no two crosses are alike. Each of us has a unique and special combination and pattern of skills, situations, and callings which only we can truly complete. That is why we can no more pick up someone else’s cross than toss their DNA on ourselves. Nobody can serve God with my cross as I can because nobody has the unique combination of gifts from which my cross is made as I have.
Those who approach the cross from a selfish perspective, however, may well be grasping the wrong cross altogether. Such people may be burdened by poor business deals because their greatest gifts do not come from business. Others may be burdened by an unfulfilling job because they chose the wrong calling in the first place, or are doing the right job the wrong way.
This does not mean that something like a bad marriage or a difficult job situation cannot actually be our cross, which they most certainly can be. God may be putting us in these tough situations so that we may offer these difficulties to Him and, perhaps, use our unique traits to deal with and overcome them. The problem lies when a poor marriage or a tough job situation does not come from God but, rather, from our own warped efforts or beliefs.
So, the question remains, what is your cross made of? Is it built on selfishness, arrogance, feelings of superiority, the need to always win or be right, greed, revenge, resentment, insecurity, jealousy, or twisted love of self? If that is the case, then that cross does not come from God but, rather, from you. Such crosses do not serve God or help you make the kind of difference which serving God can make. Too many people are like the bad thief at Calvary, hanging from crosses of their own making while cursing God for the crosses they have made themselves. Does that sound familiar?
If we discern what gifts God has given us, and thus what our particular cross will be made of, then we will be well on our way to finding and using our cross to effectively serve God, others, and make a difference. It all begins with God, and what He has given each of us to work with. It is our mission, not to hide those gifts as the foolish servant did but, rather, to develop and apply those gifts in the field of this world to grow an eternal interest for God in the form of bringing glory and service to God, love and service to others, and making the kind of difference which we are each meant to make.