This verse, and other references to crosses in the gospel, are ones most Christians are familiar with. They make sense to us now in hindsight because we know how the story ends. We know the significance that the cross played in our salvation. But have you ever wondered what Jesus’ disciples thought about these statements? They would have made no sense at the time. Before Christ’s passion, crucifixion was reserved for only the hardest of criminals. Why would Jesus have told them to willing die this type of painful death? These days we think we understand—Jesus had to die so that our sins could be forgiven—but what about the second part? What about His calling for us to take up our crosses as well? In this regard I think that, unfortunately, many Christians are just as confused as the original disciples.
It’s easy for us to take credit when things are going well. So many people paint this rosy picture of Christianity. They believe that if you have Jesus in your heart life will flow smoothly and you will always be filled with a celestial joy. And while I would not deny that there is a peace and incredible joy in knowing Christ, that’s only part of the picture. But when we believe that our happiness and the good things that happen to us are solely the result of our faith, what happens when we inevitably face trails or suffering?
This was a source of great pain and confusion for me when I first began dealing with mental illness. At youth group after our times of prayer or worship the other teens would talk about feeling joy and the presence of the Holy Spirit. I went through the motions, but felt only emptiness and despair. I thought that I must be missing something that the other teens had. That my faith was not as deep as theirs. I felt guilty about the anxiety that I was struggling with and took it as a sign that I was not trusting God, because if I really believed that He would take care of me why would I be worrying?
It took years before I was finally able to acknowledge that my mental illness was no different than any other illness. That it had physiological causes and nothing to do with my faith. That sometimes I felt pain or despair for no particular reason, but that it was what I did with those feelings that mattered. I could feed into them and the lies I started to ruminate on about their cause (e.g., my faith wasn’t strong enough, I wasn’t smart enough, pretty enough, etc.), or I could keep moving forward in treating my mental illness and living a healthy life. I could accept the pain as one of my crosses and let it bring me closer to Christ instead of using it as an excuse to push Him away and believe that I wasn’t worthy of His love.
March 23, 2014
“I used to think that the darkness I sometimes experienced was caused by sin.
I don’t worry about that much anymore though. And isn’t it action that matters anyway? In the end, my emotions don’t always mean much. They’re just chemical reactions in my brain.
It’s what I do or don’t do about the emotions now that matter…
My brain is broken. As a result, I sometimes feel emotional pain when there
is no reason for it, but I don’t need to act on the pain or feed into the lies about the causes… The pain is real, but the reasons that I come up with (because my
logic tells me that if there is pain then there must be a reason for it) are not…
Oh my gosh! For the first time I can see. Thank you God! They are all lies! For all these years I have been believing lies. The pain is just pain. There is no reason for it. It is not my subconscious mind telling me that there is something wrong with me. I am not ugly or fat or stupid. I am not worthless. I’m good. I am made in God’s image and I am beautiful.”
- excerpt from Paper Thin