34 And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it. 36 For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? 37 For what can a man give in return for his soul? 38 For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
Every day I right down in my planning journal this single line, “Is the thread still there?” For the last two years or so I’ve described this thread as my walk with Christ, a commitment to simple rhythms of scripture, prayer, and service (also known as hear, pray, offer, and Word, Spirit, Fellowship) that has become my way through this life. Sometimes I hold on to this rhythm, and sometimes it holds on to be. But it always, it seems, leads me somewhere out of nowhere. A way forward when there doesn’t seem to be a way forward.
I write down, just to the right of “Is the thread still there?” this other line “What do I need to be okay?” It’s similar questions, and my answer to myself has been “A way to depend on Christ.”
This simple rhythm has been a way forward, a way to depend on Christ.
It has been a lot of things to me, but mostly it has been I know who Christ is. When I understand who Christ is, I know who I am, When I know I am, I know What I’m Supposed to Be Doing.
I often think of how following Jesus will never be something we’re used to. Will almost always feel like walking upstream, walking against the current. Mostly because this simple rhythm feels like walking upstream, like something I will never quite get used to.
What is that current? For me, the current that goes the other way is What I Want, What Feels Wrong, What Could Happen, and What’s Supposed to Happen. These things can devour and dominate my life. They are the four wolves that tear into little bitty pieces the little rag doll that is my ability to pay attention.
I think of how hard it is to follow Jesus, how can anyone do it? How is any progress made at all?
I think of the way of the Cross. The way is both hard, but is also, somehow, always available. And for someone like me, knowing that there is always forward has been a great gift.
I’m someone with a mental illness who’s also recovering from trauma. One of the simplest ways to describe it is this: Mental Illness is What’s Wrong (because something is wrong with my brain, it doesn’t do what other brains do) and Trauma is What Happened (because something happened to me that neither I or my body have gotten over).
What’s Wrong lives in my mind and body as What’s Supposed to Happen, my mind convinced that certain things have to happen certain ways, a mind convinced that What Supposed to Happen is that I’m supposed to Know For Sure, Figure Things Out, Make Things Right, and Defend Myself.
What is the problem with this? Maybe nothing, within reason. Except that we don’t always have a way to Know For Sure, Figure Things Out, Make Things Right, and Defend Myself. And have not been asked to. And the way of the Cross, we are promised, is always available, because the Christ we follow is always available. And so Knowing For Sure, Figuring Things Out, Making Things Right, and Defending Myself cannot be the way of the Cross.
And so to follow the Cross you will have to let go of What’s Supposed to Happen.
What Happened lives in my mind and body as What’s Going to Happen?, my body carrying that question with me wherever it goes, my body always anticipating that the worst is imminent.
What’s Wrong with this? Maybe nothing, within limits. But the problem, there’s no way to know what going to happen. What’s Going to Happen is not always available, but the way of the Cross is always available. And so What’s Going to Happen cannot be the way of the Cross.
And so we will need a way forward, that is always available, that will neither uphold What’s Supposed to Happen or answer What’s Going to Happen?
What do we have instead of What’s Supposed to Happen? And What’s Going to Happen. And how will our hearts, minds, and bodies ever learn to let go of those questions?
One of things I believe now is what we will always have, always have available as Christians, is our hearing. Because we have a Word: the Word of what Christ has done. I believe that Christ gives himself to us by that Word. As in, the only way to receive Christ, once for all but also again and again, is by that Word of His Death.
By that Word comes the only thing that keeps us going, an understanding of Who Christ is. And this mystery: the only way to understand who Christ is to hear what Christ has done. It is only when we understand Mercy has been offered that we can know we are servants and guests of the Mercy that has been offered.
The understanding of who Christ is can only be created, deepened, and maintained by the promise of What He’s Done. Our hearts our cleansed and consecrated by Promise. By Proclamation.
And so, the way of the cross begins with Hearing.
Of course, we don’t just hear. There must be something else, right? Of course, there is also prayer. We must pray. But prayer is hard, brutal. Dry. Uncomfortable. And, most importantly for me, the hard work of prayer can only be done with the trust won for us by hearing what Christ has Done. Prayer leads the trust won for us by hearing.
And we are, thank God, not changed by our ability to pray or desire to pray, but changed by the One we wait on in prayer. Who’s Spirit now leads the trust won for us by His Word.
And leads us to what? To what we offer. To an offering that is the also the Bearing of Witness. Knowing, of course, we are not changed either by our desire or ability to offer, but by the One we Serve by Offering.
I’m sure of this when it comes to the Way of the Cross. That the Cross is not example of the own crosses we carry. Christ’s Death does not just set an example of how to die to ourselves. It is a promise that we will Die, that the Word Christ’s Dying for You will live on in our body, mind, and heart as You Dying With Christ. That His Death will lead us to ours. That His Cross will lead us to ours.
Yes, leading us to our death, and yes leading us to our cross. But also, away from the haunted house of fear, shame, and pride.
And how will we know the way of the cross is always available? Because it is in hearing we learn to pray, in prayer we learn to offer. If I can hear, I can pray, if I can prayer, I can offer. And I can offer, then I am living.
And why is that? Because the way of the cross is not ours. It is Christ’s life in you. The way of the cross is Christ’s life with us and in us, clothing our shame, casting out our fear, overturning our pride. And being our obedience in dread. And how? By His Word, through His Spirit, and in His Fellowship.
And all I have to show for it is this: with even less control over What Should Happen, and with even less of an Idea of What ‘s Going to Happen, I seem to have a better and better sense of What I’m Supposed to Be Doing.