Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  -Mark 8:34

Lately I’ve been pondering cross-carrying. On the one hand, that concept is not a familiar one within our culture. On the other hand, Jesus said that I need to take up my cross if I am to follow him. So it begs the question, What kind of cross am I to carry? What’s it for?

There are so many crosses to choose from: duty, obligation, penance, martyrdom, suffering, longing, care-taking, shame…and the list goes on and on. But I’m more and more convinced that the only cross I need to carry is the cross to which I nail my false self.

False self…that persona I’ve so carefully constructed over the years, the one I’ve created in response to the expectations of the world I live in–culture, community, workplace, church, friends, family. It’s the mask I wear in hopes that you approve, like, and accept me. It is manipulative and self-protective in that it seeks to control my environment so that my status quo is not disturbed or disrupted.

While I might choose to carry other kinds of crosses, the cross God chooses for me to carry is the one to which I nail my false self.

In his book, The Deeper Journey, Dr. Robert Mulholland makes this distinction:

There are two fundamental ways of being human in the world: trusting in our human resources and abilities or a radical trust in God…You might describe these two ways of being in the world as the ‘false self’ and the ‘true self.’

Dr. Mulholland goes on to point out that when Jesus says we should deny ourselves, he’s not talking about giving up chocolate for Lent. “He is calling for the abandonment of our entire, pervasive, deeply entrenched matrix of self-referenced being.”

Jesus is calling for me to nail that false self–the one that’s more about shame than grace–to the cross. It’s not a once and done deal, however. It’s not that easy! The false self is shed in layers, one after another, as I go through life. That’s why I need to carry that cross…the one that’s just waiting for the next abandoned layer of my false self.

What takes the place of my false self, though? What’s my identity as this false self is being stripped away? The Apostle Paul suggests that I am to put on Christ’s identity…

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!  -2 Cor. 5:17

But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.  -Rom. 13:14

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.  – Col. 3:1-3

Most days Christ’s identity feels too big, but that’s OK. I trust that God is growing me into it as I obediently and gratefully carry my cross.


Martha’s Moment

For years I have chafed at the flak Martha gets whenever the Mary and Martha story fromMarta_e_Maria Luke 10 is told. I have always identified with Martha. Someone had to prepare the meal, right? Someone had to extend hospitality! Yet the story is often presented as Jesus rebuking Martha, and then holding Mary up as the quintessential Christian woman.

But there is another Mary and Martha story. It is found John’s gospel, and I like it much better!

You may remember that Mary and Martha had a brother named Lazarus, and they lived in Bethany. Now Lazarus died, and when Jesus got word of his death he took his time getting to Bethany, though it was only a couple of miles from Jerusalem. The professional mourners were there, as well as friends who came to console Mary and Martha. This might well have been another opportunity for Martha to slip into her super-hostess role.

But when Martha heard Jesus was coming, she ran out to meet him, leaving her houseguests. Mary stayed inside, too.  Martha’s conversation with Jesus is as revealing as it is lovely. She professes faith in the resurrection, and belief that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God.

So, who gets it this time?!!! Mary is sitting at home wailing, and who is running out to greet Jesus, professing Him as the Christ? That’s right…it’s Martha!

(OK, I know my reaction is a just a bit over the top, but surely you see the justification, right?)

Seriously…something came of Martha’s encounter with Jesus back in Luke 10. The truth of the matter is that Jesus blessed Martha because he told her the truth about herself…

Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things…

In essence, Jesus was revealing to Martha her false self–the identity she had established for herself that was rooted in appearances and propriety.

Somewhere between that first visit and the death of her brother, Martha came to understand her true identity as one lovingly created by God to be in communion with him forever. This is evident in her profession of faith in the resurrection—that time when the dead would be raised to an eternal life with God, herself included. In that moment of truth with Jesus, I think Martha encountered the Living God who revealed to her her true self, freeing Martha from the false self–the woman whose worth was rooted in her performance.

We are all like Martha in one way or another. Like Martha, we have created our own identity, often completely de-centered from God. And Jesus is just waiting for us to allow him to speak to that identity, to reveal our false self, so that we can shed it like the dead weight it is!

Will you allow Jesus to address your false self? He is not anxious to give a sharp rebuke, but rather a gentle and loving invitation to release that which is not of Christ so that your true self–your Christ-self–can emerge.

You might begin by praying, “Come, gentle Jesus…”