Carrying One’s Cross

This is the second of two Lenten-themed musings

“Whoever would be my disciple must renounce themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”

These memorable words of Jesus (Matthew 16:24) clearly lay out the conditions by which one may become his close disciple.

“My disciple.” Jesus is indicating that a person will have an intimate, lasting spiritual relationship with him. This requires an ongoing commitment, through good times and bad, come what may.

“Renounce themselves.” We are so full of ourselves that we have no idea how refreshing it might be if we could shed ourselves for a while.  Not only to the benefit of ourselves, but possibly for those around us as well. Further, Jesus places no time limit on how long one must renounce. We will presume he meant for the duration of one’s life.

This means reducing our swollen egos and tempering our often bull-in-a-China-shop personalities to more apportioned measures. Give up the primacy of self and adopt a more humble posture in daily life. The mystic can go even further and lose their self entirely in the infinitude of God during their spiritual practices. In Sufism, the intractable ego is called one’s nafs, and virtually all Sufi practices are intended to tame one’s nafs in order to fully attune oneself to God. Less self = more God.

“Take up their cross.” This is the hard part. It’s easy to practice spirituality when everything goes our way. But what about when the storms arrive? It’s precisely how we endure the tumultuous situations in life that tests our spirituality. If our commitment is superficial, we’ll buckle under. But if our faith is solid, we’ll pass through the storms undaunted.

“Follow me.” Jesus has given us three conditions: (1) long-term commitment to be his disciple; (2) renounce our ego’s stubborn, self-centered proclivities; and (3) gracefully handle the burdens of life. One these conditions are met, then we can “follow me.” Are we ready?

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