I’ve heard it for as long as I can remember, how it’s our job to carry our crosses. The subtext, that in doing so we imitate Christ, is a cornerstone of Christian faith.
And I have believed it, but too often I have believed it wrongly, I think.
I imagined that true Christians, the really holy ones, somehow pulled up under the weight of their crosses and kept themselves together.
Perhaps the weight digs into their shoulders and splinters pierce their flesh. It could be that their legs shake with weakness and sweat beads under their clothes.
But a really good cross-carrier doesn’t let you see how much it costs them.
I must be a very bad cross-carrier. And if I’m a bad cross-carrier, does that make me, by default, a bad follower of Christ? A bad Christian?
I’m a willing cross-carrier. I know the value of faith earned in suffering. Life and death have taught me we have little if we have a faith that can’t believe in the dark.
I’m not even afraid of the size of the cross on my shoulders. There was a time I feared God might ask too much of me. I was right. He has asked entirely too much. But somehow I kept walking. So I no longer fear that.
Neither of these is the trouble. The trouble is that I am not a very clean cross-carrier.
The effort it takes to heft the weight and walk is evident in my carriage. My faith is a sweaty one, where the work is obvious. My clothes get ripped and stained and dirtied in my efforts.
I fall. I bleed. I cry out in pain. Anyone who watches my journey long enough will know that sometimes faith hurts. Sometimes faith bleeds out the love and the longing it gathers up to carry that cross.
I get bruised. I have scars. I’ve been wounded on this path and I’ve tripped over obstacles I’ve placed in my own path more times than I’d like to count.
My faith is not a clean faith, and I’m learning to be okay with that.
Because I think a clean faith is a bit dangerous. If we train ourselves to think that no one should see how much it costs us to believe, how much it costs us to follow this Jesus up Mt. Calvary, then we risk cheapening his resurrection.
The great relief of the empty tomb is that it redeems the horror of the Passion. If we clean up the Passion, what exactly is the value of the resurrection? If the Passion doesn’t cost us much, does the resurrection hold less meaning?
A clean faith isn’t grasping for redemption with the tips of its grimy nails. It isn’t tasting its own blood on its lips and wondering if healing will ever come. It isn’t leaning into the tomb and weeping to see that Jesus isn’t there.A clean faith might be able to carry the cross in a prettier fashion than I can, but can it weep with the same sheer relief of the resurrection?
Mine might be a messy walk, but it knows what it walks toward.
The Jesus of the Resurrection, who sits on his heavenly throne with a gaping wound still in his side. From it pours blood and water, his merciful love.
The Jesus of the Resurrection, who inhabits the molecules of bread and comes to the table, tells me to take him and eat him.
This a full, fleshy faith we embrace, with a real, scarred God who bled for us and fills our cup of offering with that blood over and over again.
I carry my cross because I want that Jesus.
It’s not clean carrying, but it’s a worthy effort, a burden born of love.
In Lent, as I lean into my cross-carrying a little deeper, it might even look like a faith that exacts too high a price.
But come Easter, it will be an exhaling, weeping, whooping faith. A faith that knows that sometimes joy rises highest on sheer relief.
I’m bending low and digging in, feeling the weight again this Lenten season. Wounds might reopen. I can guarantee I’ll fall and likely bleed. But I’ll bear my bruises and keep on walking toward the hill that gives me the best view of the resurrection.
I’ll witness it through sweat stung eyes.
But I’ll have eyes that see.
And what they will see is oh so good.
Colleen C. Mitchell is the author of the forthcoming book Who Does He Say You Are? Women Transformed by Christ in the Gospels (Servant, 2016). She’s wife to Greg and mother to five amazing sons here on earth and five precious little ones in heaven. Colleen and Greg are foreign missionaries in Costa Rica, where they run the St. Francis Emmaus Center, a ministry that welcomes indigenous mothers into their home to access medical care. She works out what it means to trust Jesus, grieve well, and live a raw faith at her blog Blessed Are the Feet.