My Cross I'll Carry
I first carried a cross during my senior year of high school.
My 18-year-old perception of love alighted upon a friend, luminous in her every way. My Monday-Friday school daze carried over to evenings and weekends, study sessions where she sat on my bed, laughing at my jokes. The particular timbre of her delight fluttered through me and, living out my part in every coming-of-age film projected on screen, I confessed my affection.
Turns out, I played a supporting role after auditioning for the lead. She valued the friendship more than the risk. Misunderstanding her and mishandling the torch I carried, I fashioned a horizontal beam to lay across my shoulders. The rest of the year, I limped beneath the weight for her benefit and mine.
I loaded my cross into the back of a tan station wagon, carrying it all the way from Arizona to Missouri, where I started Christian college. The burden only grew heavier.
Mistaking youthful passions for holy-ghost fire, I fancied myself a New Romantic. I wore the clothes of Kerouac’s blissful Beats, minus the good drugs and just barely acquiring a taste for gas-station coffee. A different breed of true believer, I looked within myself to find more—and deeper—feelings than mere men.
Emboldened by daydreams and guitar anthems that shocked my heart into beating, I left notes for girls working the library desk. Like an emotionally stunted Magellan, I navigated casual crossings of paths. I pressed emotional buttons I had zero business touching, made promises I could never hope to keep.
Maintaining myths, I missed actually knowing the young women in my life. At 20, if you invoked the name of a certain classmate, I’d grow lyrical, telling you how she broke the mold. But I couldn’t relate a damn detail about her. Nothing real, nothing born of concern or connection.
I stitched every rightful rejection and every missed chance to my sleeves like merit badges. Strolling center aisle at the Church of the Perpetual Martyr, my eyes shut in reverence and my face screwed up tight, fighting off an encroaching smile. Looking as pious as possible, I sang a little too loud, sounding over the top of the choir:
My cross I’ll carry
Till I see Jesus
No turning back, no turning back
Time and the patience of others leads us to repentance. Fifteen years sharing a name, a bed, a life with someone means learning at least one woman. Silencing the songs in my head long enough to really listen initiates the lifelong process of unlearning traditions about other women and where I did or didn’t fit their lives.
Increasingly free of such burdens, I still catch myself slumping from time to time, adopting the posture of the crucified. When a piece of writing fails to find its audience, I hum along with Brian Wilson. I guess I just wasn’t made for these times.
Bearing witness as others succeed at family or finances with little effort, I pray in passive-aggressive fashion, ensuring God knows how I labor. Acutely sensing the choices I don’t get to make, I’m back where I started, setting myself apart for a rare measure of holiness.
When you pick up a cross to justify yourself, that cross gives up its meaning. The same means which ended in our salvation—a few pieces of timber and some crudely-driven nails—surrender their material shape, becoming symbols of purposeless self-sacrifice.
Surely Christians answer the call to bear burdens and enter daily cycles of death and resurrection. But we never wield crosses to confirm our own sainthood. We never really wield them at all.
We all face taxing circumstances and bear raw wounds. Reasons for suffering abound—death, dissonance, betrayal, people and blessings which simply fade away. But the cross Simon carried allows Jesus to carry these things for us.
We truly imitate Christ when our eyes glint in recognition at the real nature of things,—we lay down some crosses to pick up others. If he justifies us—past, present and future—then he frees us from the loads we once asked to give us purpose and personality.
I think about this truth when I brace my body to lift up burdens I was never created to carry, so many of them formed to maintain the stories I tell myself about myself.
I think about it when I comb comment sections, finding people who deny their neighbors’ lived experiences so they might take up the mantle of a country that never really existed.
I think of it when I come across the barely-filtered thoughts of friends, family, and second fathers in the faith, insecure saints who see persecution everywhere.
The cruciform life bestows entrance to a fellowship; it doesn’t confer lesser tokens that keep us believing our own good press. In Christ, I set down my self-made crosses, then tag along as Jesus shoulders the weight which truly presses hard upon a disciple. This makes me smile bigger and sing louder than any romantic notion could in a million lifetimes. The hymns finally ring true.