I have a friend. She’s in love with a man who is the father of her children. They’ve been together for longer than most married couples I know, but they’re not married.
You wouldn’t know they weren’t married unless you asked or saw their driver’s licenses with different last names. They live together, have children together, and share a bank account, but they aren’t married because if they tied the knot, she would lose all of her government subsidies. I know what you’re thinking, you’re probably picturing a lazy, entitled woman who doesn’t want to get married so she can keep getting free groceries but buy her kid’s expensive tennis shoes and iPhones, but that’s not true. The government covers her medical insurance since, technically, she’s a single mom, and the medical costs of her child with special needs is several thousand dollars a month. There’s no way she could afford the cost on her own.
I have another friend who makes a lot of money. He’s very successful, according to any standards. He became successful before committing his life to Jesus, and now after committing his life to Christ, he’s trying to figure out how to be fully committed to Jesus while still fully committed to increased profits and more success.
Let me tell you about one more friend. He is gay. He doesn’t talk it about it often; I guess you could say he’s “out of the closet,” I’m not really sure how to describe it. The problem, in his words, is he knows in his heart God’s plan for his life is not a gay lifestyle, but he’s faced with a unresolvable tension; he is not attracted to females in any way, never has been, and he wants to live a committed Christian life following Jesus. He doesn’t believe he can be a practicing homosexual and committed Christian at the same time. You may disagree with him, that’s not the point of this article, but regardless of your views, I’m sure you can understand the daily dilemma he faces desiring companionship but having to go against his convictions to attain it.
I bring up my friends because their stories are not that uncommon from the stories I hear every week from the people who visit my church and either commit their life to Jesus or want to but can’t pull the trigger. They face the dilemma all of us face, we want to experience a better life but not at the expense of our current life.
Jesus made a statement we don’t talk about much anymore. He was talking to a group of people who were constantly in his vicinity, except for the night he was crucified.
“If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it.”
It’s that phrase, “take up your cross” that’s been haunting me for the last few weeks. Jesus wasn’t talking about the cute cross jewelry you wear around your neck when he said this. He was talking about the heavy wood kind of cross, the kind that gives you splinters and puts a crick in your neck. Growing up, I heard sermons about this scripture, but it seemed to always be described in a figurative way. Rightfully so, since no one reading this article will ever carry an actual cross, but I guess since the message was figurative I never really contemplated its implications. Throw in the fact that grace is free, and it’s easy to understand why we forget Jesus said there was a cost to count.
Remember my gay friend I was telling you about? He asked me what he should do. I wasn’t sure what to say, not because I didn’t know what I believed, but because when you’re staring at the face of a friend who contradicts your belief, truth feels cold.
I told him the same thing Jesus told him. If you want to follow Jesus, you have to take up your cross. I know the implications of what I was saying to him. If attraction for the opposite sex never occurs, my friend will have to make a daily decision to abstain from sex. On his worst days the choice will probably be made begrudgingly no doubt, but at some point, my friend has to answer the question all of us must answer, “Is having Jesus truly better than not having what I swear I have to have?” That’s a mouthful, go back and read that last sentence again. For my friend, abstinence and celibacy is the cross he must carry, and a life of romantic companionship is the life he must lay down.
Everyone’s cross is different, but the command is the same. For my friend who is wealthy, it means living with open hands even if it decreases his bank account. For my friend who isn’t married, it means doing the right thing even if disobedience is more beneficial.
It feels unfair even as I type it. Probably because I fall into the trap of believing what so many of us believe—God wants me to be happy. I understand the sentiment. It’s not that he wants me to be unhappy, I’ve met plenty of those Christians, it’s just that usually what makes me happy now hurts me later. Chocolate cake, dropping out of college, leaving my spouse, the list goes on and on of opportunities I have for instant gratification and delayed remorse.
You can always tell when someone is at the crossroads of trying to decide if a laid down life is worth it. They’re realizing for the first time them and God can’t both have what they want, and their comments start with something like, “So you’re telling me?”
“So you’re telling me God would want me to be alone the rest of my life?”
“You’re telling me God would rather me be married and broke than living together but provided for?”
“You mean God wants me to be unhappily married?”
“You mean God wants me to tithe and not be able to pay my bills?”
The next step is to minimize the act of obedience. “it’s just sex!” “It’s just a piece of paper. It doesn’t even really mean anything!”
When we start saying those things, it’s our selfish, sinful nature making one last attempt to keep our hands full, but following Jesus means giving up what you think you want in order to get what you don’t know you want yet.
Let me ask you a question: What has it cost you to follow Jesus? I’m asking literally. Have you ever given up a promotion due to integrity? Have you ever paid more in taxes for telling the truth? Have you ever chosen monogamy instead of a sure thing, or given money at the expense of a purchase? If you can’t think of anything you’ve laid down or a cross you’ve picked up, it could be that instead of following Jesus, you asked him to follow you— to bless your life but not alter it.
After 17 years following Jesus, I’m learning the right choices are rarely the easy choices. Most of the time the right choices are the inconvenient choices. But each time you find out Jesus is better.
You might assume by the way I’m describing it, a life committed to God is miserable, but that’s the irony of it all. Talk to someone who laid down something they thought they couldn’t live without and what you’ll find is someone full of life. You can raise your family in church and be a morally good a person, but you’re not following Jesus until you’ve laid down the thing that you’re convinced you can’t live without. When you think you’re losing is when you start living.
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