Dr. Mona Gohara is a dermatologist who is concerned with skin care. (Makes sense; that’s what dermatologists do.) She reminds us that skin is our largest organ. She also reminds us (as if we need reminding) that everyone’s skin has blemishes and imperfections. In Dr. Gohara’s words: “Everybody has their cross to bear when it comes to their skin.”
What’s your cross to bear when it comes to your skin? A zit, or a scar, or a hairy mole? Or maybe it’s bags under your eyes, or wrinkles, or what my daughter calls “ashy legs.”
But here’s the truth. Your skin is not a cross you bear. In an age where the phrase “it’s my cross to bear” is casually tossed around, it’s helpful to remember exactly what a cross was. It was an instrument of death – cruel, painful, slow death. It was a method of the worst kind of political power, intimidation, and punishment. A cross was a way to kill people, brutally, so that all could see: This is what happens when you mess with Rome. For Rome, the cross was just another tool in its arsenal for how to govern – and keep control.
So, it’s helpful to remember that, even though we label all kinds of things as “our cross to bear,” there is really only one thing a cross does: it kills you.
So, the truth is: even things that are much more difficult and challenging than a pimple are not crosses. It doesn’t make them easy, but it’s also important that we label them correctly. So, some things that come to mind that are not “crosses” we bear:
- Being disliked by everybody at school
- Being divorced
- Dropping out of school
- Having cancer
- Having an alcoholic husband
- Losing my job
- Being shy
- Being addicted to porn
- Having my car break down
- Finding my finances in a mess
- Working 70 hours a week
- Having my basement get flooded
- Getting slammed at tax time
Again, some of these things are horrible; none are enjoyable. But none of them are crosses, either.
There’s another word for these things: life. Or: sucky life. But life, all the same. Because: sometimes life is nice, and sometimes life can be downright nasty.
I’m not trying to make light of awful situations. Instead, my hope is that we find clarity in the midst of life’s worst situations. So, no matter what life throws at me – or, despite the bad choices I make in life – my first response should not be: It’s my cross to bear. Instead, my first response should be: pick up my cross.
Because, while bad stuff isn’t my cross to bear, it is a reminder to me that the only way through them is to bear my cross through them.
What’s the difference? For me, it means that “bearing my cross” is what I do in response to life; it’s not what happens to me in life. In the midst of life’s challenges and in the midst of my mistakes in life, the invitation from Jesus is to take up my cross right where I am, wherever in life I am. My “cross to bear” is, in fact, my choosing to pick up the cross of Jesus, where I die to myself (my sin, my need to control things and people, my desire for things to go my way). Why do that? Because only in death, comes life. Because I believe that, only in dying to myself, do I know how to live. Only in dying to myself do I learn how to live as myself, where I am, and with what I face.
So, whether your life is successful, or stinky; whether your life is amazing, or a mess; whether (as someone once said) you’re on top of the world, or the world is on top of you, the way forward is not focusing on the stuff you’re facing. The way forward is dying to yourself, looking to Jesus, and finding his strength, his grace, and his life, to walk through the life that you are very much in the middle of.