There's one particular sacrifice that hurts: The little, everyday handing over of the will to God.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not rely on your own intelligence. In all your ways be mindful of him, and he will make straight your paths.
Yes, Father, such has been your gracious will.
It’s always amazing to me when I hear the allegations that Christianity is a human invention to comfort weak souls. Certainly, there’s joy and peace in following Jesus, a peace that the world cannot give. But there’s a reason the followers of Christ wear a cross: we who follow a crucified God are expected to lay down our lives daily. Walk past the stained glass windows and statues in countless beautiful old churches and you’ll see one example after another of men and women whose faith led them to be burned or beheaded or drawn and quartered. Still today, those marked with the Cross run the risk of being crucified.
You and I are unlikely to face such persecution. In the west, we’re safe—to a point. Because the Cross that saves is anything but safe. Some of us will risk our livelihoods when we conform our lives to the teachings of Christ’s Church. We may lose relationships. We’ll certainly lose out on pleasure. Ask anyone who’s been following the Lord for a while and you’ll find that, much though they pale in comparison with the joy of the Gospel, there have been sacrifices.
For me, there’s one particular sacrifice that hurts. I mean, I love bacon, but I can handle meatless Fridays. And really, I wasn’t going to want to sleep with strangers anyway. It’s not the Church’s disciplines or moral teachings that get me; even when I’m tempted, there’s a clear path to follow and I’m willing to toe the line.
No, it’s not the big stuff. It’s the little, everyday handing over of the will to God. It’s standing in the shadow of a broken dream and saying, “Yes, Father.” It’s accepting the will of God as gracious when it only ever seems to be saying no. It’s giving him not just my checkbook and my bedroom and my Sunday morning and my Saturday night but giving him my heart, writing a blank check with my life and promising to be his regardless.
This is what gets me: carrying the cross isn’t a matter of accepting one hardship or a series of hardships. It’s allowing his pierced hands to pry open your fingers, clenched tightly around your will, and gently offer you his will instead. It’s looking at a life you didn’t choose and sometimes accepting that you still wouldn’t choose it but still you say, “Yes, Father.”
Perhaps it’s a first world cross, but it’s my cross: the sacrifice of my will at every meal, over every book, with every late night or early morning. And it seems to me that it’s the cross of every follower of Jesus Christ, the cross Adam and Eve refused to shoulder and the cross that weighs the heaviest on the most heroic of Christians. Ask any sister or friar which vow is hardest and I bet 9 out of 10 will tell you it’s obedience. Poverty’s no problem when you’re being provided for and even chastity becomes less trying over time, but self will only dies 10 minutes after the body does.
I was raised to rely on my own intelligence, to be strong and independent, and I’m glad to have been given the skills to stand up for myself. In many circumstances, that’s exactly what I need to do. But even then I find the Lord calling me deeper: sweet child, give me your heart. Not just your sex life or your day planner or your leisure time, but your whole heart.
Piece by piece I hand it over, keeping back as much as I can and pushing him out of areas I want to rule, because I don’t understand yet. I don’t understand that he’s my Father, I don’t understand what a father is, I don’t believe that he truly loves me, I don’t have the courage to let him be God. I don’t trust him with all my heart. I rely too much on my own understanding.
And you know what? It’s okay. Because I don’t have to get it. I don’t have to stand tall under my cross. I don’t have to keep from falling. All I have to do is keep turning back to him, keep murmuring, “Yes, Father,” keep handing him as much of my heart as I can manage. It’s not easy; nobody ever said the religion of the cross would be easy. But it is good.