If you have been trying to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ for a while then you, like myself, have struggled with what seems like a great contradiction in the Gospels: Jesus tells us we must pick up our cross daily (surely a metaphor for struggle and suffering) but also says we can come to him for rest. What is the deal here?
Come to me, all you who labour and are overburdened, and I will give you rest. Shoulder my yoke and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Yes, my yoke is easy and my burden light.’
- Matthew 11:28-30 (NJB)
Then, speaking to all, he said, ‘If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross every day and follow me.
- Luke 9:23 (NJB)
A Worldly Burden
Depending on when you decided to follow Christ, you will have experienced the burdens of the world to some degree. The world is often cruel, competitive, and vicious. Even those who appear to be successful on the outside are often a storm of anxiety, self-hate, broken relationships, and lost humanity. Before Christ we are a slave to the expectations of the world around us, lacking grace for the weak and envying the strong.
Of course, we often choose this enslavement for the false promise of worldly pleasures. Perhaps if we endure, we will enjoy the power and prestige of those we fear. Unless we have been completely broken (which is often a way Christ gets our attention) we take pride in our progress and only think of our future gain. This is the burden of the world.
A Good Trade: The Joy of the Cross
To repent from a worldly life to discipleship in Christ is a trade of personal pride for divine grace. We no longer subject ourselves to the guilt, fear, and shame of a false social hierarchy; but instead place ourselves alone before God. The soul and the spirit now free to bathe in the love and grace of Christ, can now live to bring that same love and grace to others.
Learning to Breathe
Ultimately I don't think very many of us, myself included, ever learn to do both at the same time. I think we, at best, come to Christ when the world has worn us out, and then go back out as heralds of the Gospel when we are restored. For this reason I believe that taking time to find peace, the true Sabbath, is an essential practice.
When Christians Cannot Find Rest
Because of all this, it is important for disciples of Christ to be free of externally imposed expectations. If your local church community fills you with stress, shame, and doubt, then you need to seek a healthier environment. One of our primary purposes in gathering together is to lift each other up. Otherwise, how can we effectively carry the Cross of the Gospel to others who need it?
As another warning, just because we began a journey toward Christ, does not mean we finished. Most of the times Christians find themselves worn and discouraged, it is not because of the weight of the Cross, but the burdens of the world we have yet to release. Many of our communities, as Christian as they claim to be, still resemble the competition and social obligations of the material world.
Leaving the Mystery
These two paradoxical teachings represent an infinite complexity that reveals itself as we mature in Christ. I do not think my contribution is here exhaustive in the least. However, if at some level you can't identify your peace and your Cross, then I encourage you to seek out that tempo.