One of the things he spoke with me about is Paul's thorn in the side, and he helped me imagine Paul and the conversations he must have had with God: "Oh, Lord, I've got this thorn in my side. Take it away." To, "Oh, Lord. Thank you for this thorn in my side that draws me closer to you." I think I have a few thorns in my side, and they do draw me closer to my beloved, but I'm known to ask him to remove them on the regular. And then I thank him. And then I ask him to take it away. And so on. Lord, have mercy.
Today's Gospel reading is from Luke 9:22-25:
Jesus said to his disciples: ‘The Son of Man is destined to suffer grievously, to be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes and to be put to death, and to be raised up on the third day.’
Then to all he said, ‘If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross every day and follow me. For anyone who wants to save his life will lose it; but anyone who loses his life for my sake, that man will save it. What gain, then, is it for a man to have won the whole world and to have lost or ruined his very self?’
Recently I read a stunning book by a writer I admire very much, Tim Farrington. He loves St. John of the Cross as I do. He's also no stranger to the Dark Night of the Soul--I don't just mean the poem and commentary St. John of the Cross wrote. I mean the experience. At some point, Farrington, who had the ambition most writers have full of dreams of being on Oprah and making the New York Times bestseller list, had to do some business with God. He wondered if God had called him to be small, rather than large. He even entertained the thought that God called him to be a failure. Lordy, mercy! I've had this conversation with the Lord. Remember I told you my friend said I may have a vocation to suffer, and how I sorta wanted to kill him for even suggesting it? But a cross is firmly planted on my shoulder that insists on me being given to the broken, which requires me to be broken myself.
Have I ever told you that I've felt jealous of the success of some of my fellow writers? That I felt angry that some people who don't particularly write beautifully experience wild success, while my sales numbers falter and my books become increasingly obscure. And you know what happens when you look at other people with jealously or envy? You stop looking at the Beloved, who has not forgotten you. This is hard to do lovies. A part of me is wicked ambitious.
But look at Jesus. His words to his disciples was that he was destined to suffer grievously. Rejected. But me, I've been unwilling to suffer or be rejected. And then I say yes to suffering and the little way. And then I say, "Take it away. I want to make it big!" In those moments I've got it all wrong. He's truly calling me to small. Intimate. Full of grace, and quiet, hidden beauty. And one more time, "No, I want the glory. I want to be a star."
I'm not saying that we shouldn't trust God for goodness and abundant blessings, but what I'm suggesting, to myself lovies, I don't want to preach to you, is that praying for the humility to accept the cross I've been given is a good thing, because like it or not, it's right there on my shoulder, and I've been dragging it around anyway, because it happens to be my destiny.
But all of us who follow Christ have crosses. Why is it so easy to forget this basic fact?
The one thing I love about Lent most is the Way of the Cross. I can go through those stations like a pro! crying, and loving Jesus for carrying his cross, but when I walk away, I go back to my life still wanting my own cross to go away.
What if I'm never famous, or popular, or win the award I'm nominated for? What if I get more bad reviews than good, and some people call me a heretic, or just plain ignorant and uninspired? What if the only people I reach for Jesus are the few who come to this blog? What if every writer I know succeeds, and all my books go out of print and the only thing I do is grow old living in a house of hospitality dressed in second hand clothes?
Well, fame is over-rated. I LOVE this blog, and the people who come here, and despite myself, I think I did exactly what I promised Jesus I would do if he let me write: tell broken people he loves them. If anyone came to this blog and got a greater sense of the love of God in the midst of their struggles, I've done something beautiful for the Lord, which was all I wanted anyway. The house of hospitality is my dream. My clothes aren't great as it is. I love sharing Jesus with people face to face. To pass out coffee and soup, and love--now that's a great life!
I'll bet my hero Dorothy Day had a lot of bored days when her cross was the very thing she loved: offering hospitality. When she was getting cussed out, or worried about where the rent would come from, or disappointed with herself because once again she was angry or short with someone, I'll bet she felt the full weight of her cross. And maybe some of those times she had no Simon the Cyrene to help her shoulder it.
We hate our crosses. We love them. We thank God for them. We beg him to take them away. It's all part of being human, and we can rest assured that Jesus walked the way before we did, and suffered more. That's enough to keep me going for today. And the rest? Well, I'll take it a day at at time, and I'll drag my cross wherever I have to. One more time.