By U.S. standards I am not a wealthy person, but I have more freedom, safety and access to the resources I need than most people in the world. I have clean water, enough fresh food, basic medical and dental care. A computer, for heaven’s sake, and a car! So I feel very uncomfortable when I hear Jesus in today’s Gospel talking about losing one’s life and taking up a cross to follow him. What am I risking for this Savior I purport to be following?
My aunt used to say, “we all have our little crosses to bear,” when she was talking about her work. She taught math to middle school kids at that juncture when learning the multiplication tables gives way to learning algebra, and melt-downs abound. She was always looking for new, more fruitful ways of helping her students to understand. But I used to think, “Some cross. Nobody is killing you.”
In the middle of pondering this, the phone rings. A friend is reaching out to me, needing somebody to listen to her. My forearms itch with the need to put what I am thinking into words on my empty page. But instead I delete the blank document and close my laptop. Looking out the window, phone against my ear, I settle in.
Outside the day is growing warmer – unnaturally warm for this time of year. I should make a note to water the trees, I think, then I let that impulse go. I set aside all my impulses: my needs, my assumptions, my ideas, my plans. And I listen.
For me, taking up the cross is not one huge, single, life-altering event. It is thousands of little choices that I make or fail to make every single day. Every time I choose to really listen, whether it is in conversation, through responding to people’s needs as I go about in the world, or listening to God in prayer, I am dying to myself and following my Lord, who is Love.
Many people are called to give their lives to right the world’s injustices. We owe them a profound debt of gratitude; they are acting on behalf of us all. And while I am not one of them, it’s important that I remember my good fortune, pray for those who suffer, and serve where I am able. I owe my now-deceased aunt an apology. Who knows what deaths-to-self accompanied each of her daily decisions in her dedication to her students and to God? For all of us it is the thousand small daily choices, the ways in which we relinquish our own needs and desires in each moment for the sake of our neighbors, that mark our discipleship to Christ.