They say everything is bigger in Texas. After being in Houston, Austin, and San Antonio for the past week, I heartily concur. On the drive from Houston to San Antonio, we saw a Texas flag so large it could easily cover the entire state of Rhode Island, not to mention enough smaller state flags to make our “Count the Texas Flags” game excruciating for all parties involved. We saw a Buc-cee’s gas station that was part department store, part grocery store, part everything-you-don’t-really-need store, altogether Texan and large enough to house an entire neighborhood.
I took the boys to Hobby Lobby, a large store in its own right. But here again, Texas went big. The store was so large that we not only got lost in the paint section but also spent entirely too long trying to pick out a handful of summer crafts. While wandering the aisles with the boys, I was struck by the sheer number of choices. As the boys deliberated between science kits and shrinky-dink skateboards, an entire aisle of crosses caught my attention.
There were bedazzled crosses and rustic crosses, tin crosses and wooden crosses, pastel crosses and manly crosses. All you had to do was pick which cross you preferred and be on your way to the check-out counter a mile away at the front of the store.
Oh, how I wish the Christian life were that simple.
Jesus said to the disciples and still says to us, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me.”
Wouldn’t it be nice if we could simply stand in front of an aisle of crosses and pick a preference? So often I unwittingly reason with the Lord as if this were the case. “Lord, you can give me a sickness, but please don’t let my children get cancer.” Or “I’ll live on a tighter budget than most Americans, but please don’t call us to do anything more risky.”
As I stood in front of the aisle of crosses, my mind ran to my Amma and Appa, bruised under the cross of Parkinson’s disease. Then I quickly thoughts of other close friends who are suffering, carrying crosses they never would have chosen. A family that is deeply entrenched and exhausted, trying to love an adopted daughter through trauma that happened to her on the other side of the globe. Friends who are struggling with singleness they didn’t expect or infertility that seems permanent. All crosses they never would have chosen.
But we don’t get to pick the crosses we are called to carry. God lovingly and wisely fashions them for each of us, without asking for our personal preferences. He alone hand-picks the crosses that are most meet for our being fashioned more and more into His image. He knows our peculiar stubborn sin patterns. He is more familiar with the particular over-desires that master us, the good things we make into ultimate things. He made our frames and our personalities, so He alone knows our threshold. It seems He often knows we can handle far more than we think we can, and yet He promises “A bruised reed He will not break, a dimly burning wick He will not extinguish” (Isaiah 42:3).
We don’t get to pick our crosses, but we do get to choose how we carry them. We can shoulder the particular lot He appointed for each of us with begrudging, complaining spirits or we can learn to lovingly and trustingly submit to the crosses of His appointment. This doesn’t mean we simple grin and bear it. We suffer honestly, we suffer in community, we don’t have to be all Polyanna smiles.
I love the prayer of St. Augustine, “Lord, command whatever you will; only give all that you command.”
Lord, you pick the crosses we are to carry, but you also portion out grace accordingly. Teach me, teach us to shoulder our crosses with your Spirit who can fill us with hope and joy even under the heaviest and roughest of crosses, even when our backs are splintered and broken.