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.