In the gospels we read where Jesus tells us to take up our cross and follow Him. What does it mean to take up our cross? Most of us think of the symbolic meaning of taking up our cross as the burdens we have to carry in our lives. While taking up our cross does require us to humbly accept our daily burdens and responsibilities, Jesus is asking much more from us. When Jesus says that we must take up our cross, He is telling us that we must be willing to follow Him unto death. He is commanding us to die to self. These words are hard for us to hear and even harder to live by.
Our individualist society is continuously encouraging us to chase those things that offer instant self gratification. This kind of lifestyle and way of thinking never leads to fulfillment because it never provides lasting peace. It may be a medicine for our desires, but it is not a cure. The reason is because God made us to be in union with Him and with others. When our objectives are solely based on our own personal goals or gratification, we sometimes lose a sense of belonging and fulfillment. We like to share our experiences, our successes and our failures with others. When we take up our cross, we not only carry our own daily burdens but also those of others. In reflecting on our mission to take up our cross, I'm reminded of the prayer of St. Francis. We are to live to console not to be consoled, to love not to be loved, and to die so that we are born to eternal life. When we think of death, we usually think only in terms of a bodily death, but when we take up our cross we also die to self. We abandon our selfish instincts and live a selfless life, a life of service to God and one another.
Jesus lived a life of service and self sacrifice. Any time we make a choice in life we are sacrificing something. The idea of sacrifice is to deny oneself for the glory of God whether that be abstaining from meat on Fridays or doing works of charity. When we understand the meaning of self sacrifice and service we will discover love and recognize a true feeling of happiness and peace.
I have a much better idea of what it means to take up my cross now that I am a father. When I was single, I only had to take care of myself. I was living for myself and simply tried to please God. Once I married my wife, I also had to live for my wife. Now I must also live for my daughter. My life has changed dramatically in what seems like such a short time. Sometimes I think about how my life was less complicated and easier. Things may have been easier and less complicated, but they were not better. Just because something is easy doesn't mean it is good, and in fact it is often the things that are the most difficult that are the most rewarding. Being a father is not as easy as I thought it would be and I know my wife is struggling with her new role as a mother. Babies don't come with manuals and so we are both learning how to take care of our baby Julie.
The stress can sometimes become overwhelming, especially for mom. Much of my stress comes from a sense of helplessness. I want to help as much as I can, but there is only so much that I can do. I must go to work to provide for the family and yet I want to ease my wife's burdens by helping take care of the baby and home duties. I want to take care of my baby Julie, but I also have the responsibility to take care of my wife. When I think of the stress we incur, I am also reminded that Jesus also experienced stress. He was so intensely stressed before His passion that He actually sweat blood. Our stresses seem light when compared with the stress Jesus was under. We think that our cross is difficult to bear, but he carried the burdens of ALL people and he did it with ultimate love. He is our perfect example.
It is important to realize that it is not sinful to experience stress, but when we do experience stress we should be careful not to fall into despair. Sometimes we are not in complete control of our emotions. My wife has just experienced a huge lifestyle change and she also has to deal with major bodily changes. I will never know what it feels like to deliver a baby. I will never be able to breast feed my children. That role is reserved for mothers. Mothers have such a special bond with their children. It takes a very special person to be a mother and my wife is an exceptional person. It saddens me deeply to see her sad and struggling with the stress that inevitably comes with the birth of a baby. I will never have to sacrifice for my daughter as much as my wife has to sacrifice now. This is hard for me to accept. I want to give everything I can to my wife and daughter. I love them so much.
I ask that you please pray for me and my family. Pray that we will be mentally and physically strong in difficult times. May we always remember Jesus' call for us to live a selfless and sacrificial life. May we take up our cross and follow Him. Thanks and God bless!