What does it mean to "carry your cross"?
I am going to play the dummy card here. But the phrase “Carrying your cross” always makes me pause. What does it mean exactly?…that phrase is one of those Christianese phrases that trips me up sometimes.
I love questions like this! The idea of “carrying your cross” is just one of many phrases that used to completely baffle me — given my completely nonreligious background, I’ve had many struggles translating Christian-speak to English (I talked about my confusion about the concept of “turning it over to God” a while back). I think I’m starting to understand it now, so here’s my stab at answering the question:
My own loose definition of “carrying my cross” would be to take the suffering and inconveniences that are in front of me right here, right now, and use them to generate love. How we you use suffering to generate love? By turning to God in trust, believing that he can make good come out of this situation, not letting the physical or mental pain act as a barrier between ourselves and the Source of all love, etc. Let me offer a concrete example that will better explain my understanding.
The Situation: Let’s say that I get another DVT, which causes me agonizing pain and leaves me unable to walk or complete even the simplest daily tasks. There are two ways I could handle this. One would involve “carrying” this “cross” of the blood clot and the inconvenience and pain it caused; the other way would involve running screaming from my cross instead of carrying it (I have a lot of familiarity with this latter way).
An example of carrying my cross: Make the conscious choice to trust that God not only can but will use this situation for good, even if the ways he will do that are not immediately apparent to me. Use my helplessness as a chance to become other-focused: reach out to friends and family and let them know how much they are loved and needed, tell my doctors how much their expertise is appreciated, think of new ways to serve my family even if I can’t walk very well, etc. Constantly look for ways in which this situation might ultimately lead me and others closer to God. Finally, in terms of the physical pain, unite it with Christ’s sufferings on the Cross, i.e. remind myself that God knows what it is to suffer, and embrace the fact that the suffering I’m experiencing can be offered as a sacrifice to God.
An example of not carrying my cross: Complain constantly. Make sure everyone knows about how much pain I’m in, even if there’s nothing they can do about it. Focus on others only to envy how much better everyone else has it than I do. Adopt a mentality that the world owes me something because I perceive that I have it so much worse than everyone else. Continue to try to control every single aspect of my life, get frustrated when I can’t because of my condition, and resort to wallowing in worry. Let my pain cause me to become almost entirely focused on myself and the concerns of this world. Forget that God knows what it is to suffer, and begin to think of him as a cold, distant deity. In my completely self-focused state, refuse to consider that anything good could possibly come of this, and think that it wouldn’t be worth it even if it did.
Interestingly, in the former situation, there is more love in the world than there was before the suffering occurred. In that latter, there is less.
So that’s my understanding of what it means to “carry your cross.” As with everything else I write, take it with a grain of salt — I’m a relatively new convert and still have a lot to learn. I’d love it if some older (in faith years, anyway) and wiser Christians wanted to take a stab at answering this one as well.