Tonight, I was at a meeting with an opening devotion that included the question of taking up our own cross and following Jesus. (Some variation of the saying is in all three of the synoptic gospels and I admit I don't recall which one was used for the devotion.)
As is often the case with this text, the conversation circled around what "taking up the cross" isn't more than what it is. A bad day on the job is not "taking up the cross." Having to care for a sick relative is not "taking up the cross." Living next door to bad neighbors is not "taking up the cross."
But we're not ever really sure what "taking up the cross" is. I sat silent in the conversation, listening, hoping for once I'd get some insight to what it is. The closest we ever come is that it has something to do with dying to ourselves and discipleship.
Whatever those are.
I recently found a place in my journal from 1985 where I boldly wrote that I had "heard the call of Jesus." I was a terribly pious 22 year old and I cringed at the language I used to write about this calling. At the same time, I read it and realized, "dang, that's what's still nudging at me."
The whys of having heretofore not fulfilled that call are many. After a while it looked frivolous. It was even a little embarrassing to say out loud (and I'm not typing it tonight!). And then I realized I was gay and I couldn't see how a gay man could fulfill this sort of calling in a world (and I'll say it---a church) that doesn't very much want gay men. And, really, I don't know that I ever really got much more than a pat on my head if I dared talk about it. No one is really asking for this vocation to be filled and people are often really quick to offer alternative routes.
And I'm a pleaser. Well, there are people who might argue that point, but I am more often than not willing to say yes to things that I know I won't like doing, won't do well, and will resent doing later simply because in the moment I want someone to like me.
So I've started a little lenten exercise (which is sort of a discipline, I guess) wherein I'm spending just a few minutes brainstorming in a notebook about how this calling might take shape.
I need to get over my embarrassment about it, get over pleasing all the people who would have me do any number of other things, and get on with this thing that has popped up over the last 25+ years and I keep avoiding.
Is this dying to myself? Is this taking up a cross and following Jesus? How will I know if it is? Or isn't? (I'm dubious about "success" or "failure" as being a measurement of vocational fulfillment.)
Really, needing those answers are also a part of "self" that needs to die. Maybe.
Maybe the point of carrying your own cross to your own execution isn't about success, failure, pleasing, or fulfilling a need.
The point is to follow.
It's a little scary. But baby steps are being made toward Golgotha. Jesus has gotten a little ahead of me. I'm hoping he'll slow down a bit and let me catch up.