I had once asked God to take away something in my life which I greatly dislike and which I have been suffering since the beginning of my life; but I said to Him that if He does not wish to remove this thorn, then please give me the grace to deal with it.
Afterwards, I began wondering whether it is morally good or bad to make such a request. I thought that surely it isn’t morally bad to ask God to remove something I do not like because doesn’t He want us to be happy? But I began wondering whether this thorn isn’t a temporary thing, whether this is something I must suffer forever.
With that possibility in mind, I said to God, “If this is something I must suffer forever, why? Make me understand. I don’t like it. Surely I can serve You better without this in my life.”
God said, “This is your cross. You don’t have to like it, but you have to carry it. Besides, if you like it, it isn’t much of a cross to begin with.”
Immediately, I thought to myself how difficult it is to truly follow Christ. It requires from us a real sacrifice which involves doing something we truly do not like for the sake of something better.
Too often Christians become enamored with their ‘sacrifices’ and begin to believe that they are truly carrying their crosses with great love for Christ. For example, when people ‘sacrifice’ their personal time by volunteering at a soup kitchen, and enjoy the work regardless how difficult it is, they begin to believe that they are already carrying their crosses and making their sacrifices. But are they doing a real sacrifice? Are they really sacrificing their personal time, or have they chosen to do this ‘sacrifice’ because in truth they have too much time on their hands and not enough hobbies? Perhaps they are only doing this to fill up the hours of their day which otherwise would be intolerably boring. Or perhaps they want to do something which makes them think they are working for the Lord, and this gives them consolation, a way to say to God, “Look, I’m serving You. Now You’ve got to give me what I ask.”
How do we know what our true crosses are?
First, a true cross is something which requires a true sacrifice; and a true sacrifice is something which is difficult to do because it requires giving up something which you would rather have for yourself.
If you like your cross in the sense that it’s relatively easy for you to carry it, it’s not your true cross. Your true cross is whatever will require you to sacrifice the most.
Second, a true cross is carried for eternal heavenly rewards, not for temporal earthly rewards.
It’s easy to believe that every sacrifice is a sacrifice for Christ. For example, when parents work overtime to afford their children’s worldly desires, they often begin to believe that overworking is their cross. True, working overtime is difficult, but if their efforts are only for temporal worldly rewards which do not increase their children’s virtue, then they are for nothing. These parents’ true crosses are probably not in working overtime but in disciplining their children and suffering their tantrums when they are not given what they want. Also, it is more likely than not that for these kinds of parents disciplining their children is more difficult than working overtime which means doing the former requires them to sacrifice more than doing the latter.
Third, a true cross results in intense happiness in anonymity, i.e. your happiness does not increase with the praises of others or decrease with a lack of praise; rather it is dependent on the fulfillment of the purpose for which your sacrifice is required.
It is said that true Christian joy is the joy which Christ had expressed upon dying on the cross. This is not easy to understand. Joy? In total humiliation? In suffering and death? Yes, but not in humiliation, suffering and death themselves, rather in the accomplishment of His goal which required these three. Notice too that after the Resurrection He did not gloat of His accomplishments to the Romans, because that was not His purpose.
Therefore, reassess your ‘cross.’ Are you carrying your true cross? Or are you wasting your time in carrying a false one? Our crosses are our individual keys to heaven. Make sure you have the right one. And always remember during difficult and frustrating times: You don’t have to like your cross, but you have to carry it. You can put it down for a while, but sooner or later you have to get up and carry it again. There is nothing else but this, because the alternative is literally nothing – that is, the nothingness of sin and heresy, and the nothingness of Godlessness and hell.