Is it even possible to Embrace a Cross?
We all have crosses. Maybe they are objectively horrible, or only intolerable to us. But we all suffer and it is always more than we can handle. Matthew 16:24 exhorts: “Take up your cross…” and yet our tendency instead is to want to run from that which causes us pain, to fight it, to escape it, to avoid it.
It seems paradoxical to think of finding joy in the midst of so much pain, but it is possible.
This is how we fall in Love with our crosses and learn to embrace them.
But, what does it mean and how do we do it?
What does it mean to Embrace your Cross?
You might be relieved to learn that embracing your cross has nothing to do with feelings! I am not going to ask you to all of a sudden get really excited that you will be interrupted for the rest of your life. Nor will I ask you to love the fact that your mom has cancer, that your marriage is strained (or estranged), or that your child is special needs.
Feelings cannot be commanded. They cannot even be controlled.
But, they do not need to determine our future.
Embrace your Cross – a 2 part process:
Part 1 – Acceptance (A perspective change)
The first step toward embracing your crosses is acceptance.
What is Acceptance? A simple recognition of the fact that regardless of whether or not I choose to embrace my cross, it will still be there.
I’m not asking you to LIKE it… but, once you realize that suffering is an integral part of life, no matter what you do to avoid it, you run out of reasons to continue fighting it.
By accepting that they are an inevitable part of our reality, instead of expending all our energy trying to run away, we can use some of that energy to figure out how best to approach the situation.
Part 2 – Action
This is the point where you learn to build your life around your cross rather than attempting to eliminate the cross, ignore the cross, or mold your cross to the life you think you want to have.
Take Specific Steps to Embrace your Cross (Meet the challenge head on)
No matter your cross, you can probably think of ways to stop running from it and meet the challenge head on. If none come to mind immediately, I challenge you to ponder this thought beyond this moment. Think about it for a few hours. If your challenge is your health, maybe you need to consider dietary changes. If you are crippled in some way, instead of thinking about all the things you can’t do, think about what you can do in your position. If you are going through bad relationships, think about what you have learned / are learning, how you have grown and what you want to do in the future to improve or avoid similar situations.
Leave Behind the Whining and Complaining
This is a MAJOR active part of embracing your cross. It is the simplest and most obvious one, but extremely difficult for most people.
Please note however, that there is a big difference between whining and complaining, to everyone you see – “Oh, woe is me…” – and genuine explanations of a situation where it is warranted, such as for counseling purposes.
Whining changes nothing. Complaints resolve nothing. They don’t even make us feel better really. In the end they only make us focus on the parts of the cross that we hate the most, making them seem bigger and more disagreeable than they really are.
Attempt to find the “silver lining”, look for potential positives. If you cannot find them, trust and have patience. Wait for hindsight to become 20/20.
Why should you bother making the effort to Embrace your Cross?
Remember how I said embracing your cross didn’t have anything to do with feelings? That part when you had a little internal party realizing that you didn’t have to like your cross?
Well, one of the best results of choosing to embrace your cross, is that the feelings usually follow.
Accepting and facing your crosses makes them suddenly seem less heavy and give you a sense of accomplishment and empowerment. Not to mention, it almost always takes away the negativity that generally taints our view of our crosses and makes them feel lighter, if not altogether conquered. It’s pretty exciting.
…Anyone who has inwardly accepted suffering becomes more mature and more understanding of others, becomes more human. Anyone who has consistently avoided suffering does not understand other people. He becomes hard and selfish. If we say that suffering is the inner side of love, we then also understand why it is so important to learn how to suffer and why, conversely, the avoidance of suffering renders someone unfit to cope with life. He would be left with an existential emptiness which could then only be combined with bitterness, with rejection and no longer with any inner acceptance or progress toward maturity. (Ratzinger, March 29, 2014)
Why Embrace the Cross?
Why should I love something that brings me pain? Why should I press in when my instinct says to run away?
Because almost always, there is a greater reason, a greater purpose, a greater meaning behind the pain. If it burns, its WORKING! Anything that doesn’t hurt, doesn’t change us.
We don’t embrace the cross because we somehow enjoy pain, but rather, we learn to view the pain for its true purpose, its potential and its many layers of meaning. Sacrifice is merely suffering transformed by love into a voluntary offering, and it robs pain of its capacity to destroy us. Just as Christ did on the cross, transforming evil for good, this is the ultimate way that we become the image of God. This is the crowning achievement and the ultimate goal of our existence. And it will be beautiful!