Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.”‭‭Mark‬ ‭8:34-35‬ ‭

This passage is confounding. How can cross-carrying convert to life-having? What does it mean to carry my cross? We know Jesus can’t be talking about taking up a literal Roman cross. He is telling us that there is some kind of suffering that leads us to life. There may be misconceptions about what that means. Suffering itself is not the aim of this passage. Not all pain is a cross-carrying kind of suffering.

Pain is a funny thing. The human body experiences pain to protect us from harm. When we touch a hot stove, we experience pain to force us to pull our hand away and avoid hot ovens in the future. Pain is a gift in that way. But not all physical pain is terrible. When you lift weights, your muscles experience pain. So which is it? Is pain good, or is it bad? The same is true about social and emotional pain. Some discomfort is formative and should be carried while other sorrows ought to be avoided.

If we reduce Jesus’ words to mean that all sadness, sorrow, and pain ought to be accepted, we risk another error. That mentality has often caused well-intentioned people to embrace small suffering to avoid the deeper, more formative, cross that they ought to be carrying. They justify their avoidance by saying, “I am carrying my cross already,” when in reality, they have chosen a less terrifying reality than the soul shaping road that God actually wants for them.

An example may help. For one person. suffering under the weight of a disliked career is preventing them from facing the fear of change yet they call it “taking up their cross.” For another person, changing jobs often prevents them from facing the fear of insignificance. The kind of cross-carrying that Jesus is talking about is a kind that is committed to seeking the fullness of life offered in knowing and following the giver of life even if it requires discomfort.

So are you carrying a cross? If so, is it the cross that God is asking you to carry, or is it something you are holding to avoid the deeper journey God wants for you? Take a few moments to ponder that and ask God, “am I avoiding something? What am I afraid of and do you want me to face it now?”

By Aaron Bjorklund