Carrying My Cross
11 years ago, I had the most insane, terrifying dream of my life. I hesitate to call it a nightmare, though it was frightening, so for now we will call it a dream. In this dream, I am with a church youth group in France on a missionary trip. For some reason, the government didn't like that we were there talking about Jesus, so a large group of soldiers came to round us up. We were packed into a van and taken to the countryside where there was a large, icy lake. The soldiers made us strip down to our underwear and get in the lake. They wanted us to die from exposure in the water, but that didn't happen. We were all so joyful in the lake. We were singing worship songs and smiling. The lake didn't feel freezing, just mildly chilly. It was wonderful! The soldiers didn't like that. They became angry and ordered all of us out of the lake and told us to get dressed. I thought that maybe they would let us go now. They didn't. We were all loaded back into the van, still singing, completely unafraid. The van takes us to a huge field with mountains in the distance. It is dark now and when we step out of the van we see a huge bonfire. As I walked closer, I saw that there were smaller square shaped holes all around the fire, in a shape of a circle. I was really confused and started to feel uneasy. Then I looked over and saw a huge pile of wooden crosses. Now I was terrified. One by one they pulled us to the crosses, made us drag one to a hole and nailed us to it. I was the last one. I stood there watching each of my friends drag a cross to a square hole, lay down on it, and have their hands and feet nailed to it. I could see that they were screaming in pain, but I didn't hear any screaming, just my pounding heart. No one tried to run or plead with the soldiers. They seamed at peace with they way they were going to die. Yeah, they were in pain, but they seemed peaceful. Not me. I kept looking around trying to find a way to hide. I thought about ways that I could possibly talk my way out of this death. Finally, it was my turn. I am silently pleading with God, begging him to help me. I grab a cross and pull it to the last empty hole. When I lay down, I hear the soldiers say that this cross is too short, unusable. They make me go back and pick a better one. I am asking God why this is happening! I don't want to suffer! I grab another cross and drag it back to my hole. I lay on it. I tell God that I am doing this for him, "I hope you know I am doing this for you God!" I close my eyes and wait for the pain to come. "Please help me do this, God!"
Then I wake up. I am in my bed, not France. I am soaking wet, my sheets and comforter are too. My whole body is shaking and I can feel my heart trying to force it's way out of my chest. It takes me a few minutes to realize that I am not in danger, that it was all a vivid, horrid dream. As you can guess, I didn't get back to sleep that night. I never talked much about that dream. 1. It sounded crazy! 2. I was so ashamed with how I acted when faced with dying for my faith. We all like to think that if the situation ever came, we would chose death for Jesus over life for the world. That dream exposed something about me that I never looked too hard at.... I am selfish when it comes to suffering for the Lord.
I don't like pain. I shy away from even the tiniest amount of discomfort. In the year 2000, I saw a book that belonged to my older brother sitting on a table. It was the DC Talk Jesus Freak book that had story after story of real life people who suffered and died for Jesus. I was shocked. "Wow, I can't believe stuff like that used to happen! Thank goodness those days are over!" I said to myself. Then I looked at the dates of some of these events. They weren't from some distant past when Romans ruled the world and the notion of human rights didn't exist. These were stories about things happening to people since I had been born. These are things happening to people even now, a time when human rights and even restitution for past sins are in the news everyday! In my sheltered, privileged, American life it was unimaginable that horrors like these still existed in the world. I thought all the world was like my community... happy, safe, torture free. I was wrong. There are many people suffering everyday, all around the world, for their refusal to denounce Jesus as their savior.
But I don't want to be one of them. I do want to be the person known for accepting Jesus and loving him, I just don't want to suffer while doing it. I hate admitting this to myself, let alone on the internet, but it is true. With the way my faith and journey with Christ stands now, I can't honestly, without reservation, say that I would gladly die for Christ, or even die at all. It is horrible, and I am so ashamed of it. We all like to think that if the situation presented itself, if someone held a gun to our head and said do you believe in God, do you live for Jesus, that was would smile and say yes. I like to think that I would do that, but a part of me concerned with my flesh and pain and suffering tells me, "yeah, not gonna happen".
I sometimes wear a gold cross necklace. It is pretty, and sparkly, and most importantly, light. "Look everyone! I am carrying my cross, just like Jesus tells us to!"
That is exactly how I prefer my burdens, light, pretty, easy to remove. Any cross bigger than the one that I wear to show what a good Christian I am... No thanks, I'm good.
These are some horrible, uncomfortable truths about myself that I struggle to fight against everyday. I want to follow Christ, but like, keep it on the paved road. I don't want hills, I hate bridges, and for the love of all that is good, make sure there is AC, or I'm out.
Unfortunately, Jesus calls us to go through fire, famine, darkness, and death all while trusting that He will be with you. Not to lessen your pain, or remove your suffering, but to get you through to the other side where you are fully formed into His image. The destination, an eternity with God and Jesus and glory sounds amazing! I want that! Why can't I get that without all the bad stuff?
There are so many verses in the Bible that talk about suffering for Christ. 1 Peter 4:16 tells us "After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen, and establish you."
My pastor recently talked about this subject in a Sunday sermon. He wasn't aware that I had been outlining this post but God knew exactly what He was doing. My pastor talked about how we live in an on-demand world, where everything that we want is available to us instantly. It is true. I remember when I was a kid, I would wait for hours to tell my best friend something funny. I would have to wait until no one was using the internet for work or just tell her the next day when I saw her at school. Now, I get irrationally angry if my Netflix show buffers for 2 seconds. 2 seconds... talk about eternity, right? Our sense of time has been seriously warped by technological advances. "Suffering for a little while" back in the times that Jesus walked the Earth had a very different impact. These were people that would wait for weeks, months, even years to hear back from someone they sent a message to. "A little while" for them would have meant years, even their lifetime considering the average lifespan of people in those days. They had a much better understanding of eternity than we do today. Waiting 30 minutes for a pizza to be delivered is out idea of eternity. The thought of suffering for 40, 60, 80 years doesn't even compute in our brains anymore. It is just too absurd an amount of time to consider waiting for a reward. I want to be called to eternal glory, but, can I get it, like, now? I might be willing to wait 2 days for you to prime it to me.
I want to be a better Christian. I want to be solid when faced with adversity. I want to be able to say that I would skip over to the pile of wooden crosses with a smile on my face, maybe even demand that I be hung upside down, so not to be seen as equal to Christ. I want to say all that, I just don't know if I can. I am not sure any of us can say we would do that, with 100% certainty, having never been faced with that kind of situation. Maybe I am wrong. Maybe I am the only one so terrified of suffering and full of doubt. Probably not, but maybe. The point is, the Bible doesn't say we will suffer for our faith... until there are smartphones and Uber. The world hasn't moved past the time hating Christ and his followers. Just because we have unprecedented access to the Bible, doesn't mean Satan is all of a sudden shrugging his shoulder and thinking "Oh, well, I tried." If you haven't been persecuted for your faith, you will be, it is just a matter of time. Especially these days. I just pray that I will have the strength to stand firm in Christ when the time comes. I'm told the rewards are worth the wait.
(Shoutout to Pastor Ben! Thank you for giving me more insight into this subject!)