It’s a heavy burden to wear a cross, if you try to live up to it
Photo by Omar Rodriguez on Unsplash
Countless millions of people around the world will wear a cross around their neck; most think nothing of it. They may be one of the more than 2.4 billion Christians worldwide, or they might not. Some who wear the cross have no faith whatsoever, or even have any belief system at all. In their case, assuming it isn’t an heirloom of sentimental value that was given to them by someone else, I guess they might wear the cross simply as an accessory that matches with something else they’ve got on. But it’s not like I can be down on them for that (so I’m not), since so many Christians do the same thing, honestly.
And that’s unfortunate, because for those of us who identify as Christian, or otherwise embrace Christianity as the main part of their overall spiritual identity, if we’re going to wear that cross then it has to mean something, and we have to try our hardest to live up to that. And that ain’t easy, not at all. The more you try to live up to it, the heavier that cross will be around your neck. Because it’s real easy to talk the talk when it comes to Christianity, and so you hear many people doing just that … but to walk the walk, that’s a totally different story. It’s painfully difficult, and requires us to put in great efforts, give of ourselves, and make sacrifices every day … and so you see far fewer people doing this.
So, what does it mean to walk the walk as a Christian person while wearing that cross? I can only speak for myself here. Let me start by explaining how these thoughts on wearing the cross first popped into my head.
I first thought of this when reading The Qur’an, of all things. I was looking in The Qur’an for a genealogy of The Virgin Mary, since the New Testament says just about nothing on that topic! And there are actually more references to Mary (and Jesus too) in The Qur’an than there are in The Bible. Mary has a whole ‘book’ of the Qur’an (called a surah) devoted to Her: Surah Maryam (Maryam being the name for Mary).
Surah Maryam is definitely an interesting read! For one thing, it describes another version of the birth of Christ that is unique to The Qur’an, and it’s totally different from all other descriptions of it. But there was one passage here that stuck out in my mind, and I never forgot it, even though I haven’t really looked at The Qur’an again since that time.
In Maryam 19:16, Maryam (Mary) goes into seclusion from Her family. Then in the next passage, the Archangel Jibra’il (Gabriel) in human form appears before Her, while She’s all alone (and so it’s still Gabriel that tells Her She will give birth to Jesus, but the event is slightly different). She feared bad intentions on his part. In Maryam 19:18, she says:
“I seek refuge with the All-Merciful (Allah) against you, if you are God-fearing.”
(For the record, that translation comes from the nifty QuranExplorer smartphone app that I use when reading The Qur’an.)
So to put it in plain English … Mary was fearful of the man’s intentions (not yet knowing it was an Archangel in human form), and invoked Allah, telling the man that if he feared God, then he should know that God was protecting Her; if he truly feared God, he would act a certain way. Then She could feel safe in this situation, knowing that he would not take aggressive actions.
It was that last part, “if you are God-fearing,” that stuck with me for so long. Because I thought about how if you know that somebody truly, honestly, deep-down fears God for real, then you should be able to feel safe around that person, knowing that they abide by a certain code. We never know how reading the spiritual texts from other faith traditions will give us new insights into our own faith, from a different perspective!
So how does one know if a stranger is truly God-fearing? If only there were some kind of visible sign or cue. And then I thought about people who wear a cross, as I had one around this time too. If you see someone wearing a cross, you could assume the person is Christian, and if that does indeed turn out to be the case, then you might assume they will act a certain way. That certain way being one described in The Bible, a thrilling book filled with action, adventure, even a little romance too. It has everything you could ever want from a book … I wish more people would read it!
As for me, I thought about how if I wear my cross, then people should expect me to be kind and loving, having unconditional compassion and mercy for all, being unconditionally charitable, to speak honestly, to act with integrity, to be selfless and give of myself, helping those who I know cannot help me back. To give handouts with no strings attached, so my brother or sister in Christ won’t go hungry for the day. I should treat everyone with respect and kindness, completely regardless of their identity and tribe. I should be someone who’s known to act honestly with integrity in all situations, no matter the cost to myself. I should be someone who seeks to add light and goodness to the world, and is willing to turn away from dishonorable paths even if those paths would be advantageous for me, or if turning away from them would harm my short-term interests (because doing good and staying honorable is always in my long-term interest, making that last note slightly irrelevant to me).
And so I asked myself a simple question: “Can people expect this from me?” I knew the answer before I even finished asking: No. No, people could not expect me to act in this way, and so I did not personally feel worthy to wear my cross around my neck. I took it off right then and there. “I’ll put it back on when I’m ready,” I said.
Since then, I put renewed effort into living my Christianity everyday, into following the virtuous code of conduct in the New Testament as I saw it. Not trying to follow Christ’s exact path, of course. But trying my best to live up to those ideals, everyday, in every situation. My altruism became unconditional; anyone who asks me for a dollar can get one if I have it. I started trying to find the most Christian option as I saw it in each situation I was faced with. I started trying to feel empathy for every person I met, to consider the other person’s situation when confronted with someone difficult. I am training myself to have as much compassion for everyone as I can. As just a regular person, I don’t really have any chances to indulge in wrath in my day to day. But if I did have a chance to do so, I would refrain from it and control myself, and indulge in mercy instead.
I started working on forgiving. Now that right there is a tough one for me. I have a strong desire to right wrongs, but I just have to let it all go, honestly. Even things that I feel I shouldn’t forgive … I spend a whole lot of energy staying angry at the people involved in them (I think we all do). To forgive not only frees up that energy for me, it’s also more Christ-like. I must forgive like I’ve been forgiven. And I have to love my enemies, as I love myself. That is really hard to do, isn’t it? But I need to do it because it’s so hard. God didn’t send Christ down to our realm to get crucified so that He could tell us the easy, trivial stuff. Christ didn’t get sent down here to die so he could share BBQ recipes or teach us inconsequential life hacks. He was sent to teach us the most important things, and I feel that if I’m going to wear the symbol of His sacrifice around my neck, I need to try my very best to abide by what He taught. And it’s not easy to abide by what He taught, not at all!
When I wear the cross and take it seriously, it puts a heavy burden on me. For example, it limits my tactical options; if someone slaps me in the face, I should turn and present the other cheek for double slappening. That is a counter-intuitive and self-detrimental way to live, and it’s not natural. But I should do it because it’s harder, because it’s nonviolent (on my part), and because it’s taking the higher road, the more Christlike option in the situation, the one that adds the most light and the least darkness to the world. On top of that, I should forgive the person slapping me! Can you imagine that? Like I said, this isn’t easy. But it was never meant to be.
When I wear the cross and take it seriously, I need to be mindful of how I speak. I should always speak with love, kindness, and empathy. I should never gossip. I should certainly never vilify or denigrate any people or groups, and I should never resort to insults, slurs, hateful speech, and to be honest even things like shouting (we should maintain our composure). Thankfully I was usually not doing these kinds of things.
Anyway, I could go on … but do you get what I’m saying? Those crosses are heavy! They weigh about 835.2774 pounds, if you believe in what they stand for. So don’t put a cross around your neck lightly, if you believe.
And sometimes we’re going to fail, sometimes the cross is too heavy for us that day. It’s alright, we’re human and we’re not perfect. That’s no excuse for not trying our best, it’s just acknowledging the fact that even when we do try our best, sometimes we will still fail. Sometimes we get sucked into that pointless argument or what have you, sometimes we’re rude to the beggar, sometimes this, sometimes that. Some days we fail. But the good news is that the next day is another chance to try our best to get it right again. When we fail, we repent and do better, we change.
Remember that living as a Christian isn’t easy, it’s playing the game on hard mode and restricts our behavior, giving us less tactical options (the payout for choosing this harder difficulty being a better ending). All we can do is try our best at it, to be honest when we fail (and figure out why we failed, if we can), and to have it in our hearts to do better. What person on this planet can do more than that?
As for me, I kept putting forth my best effort each day, like I said. Eventually there came a point where I felt worthy to put my cross back on, which felt nice. It felt like I was protected or something. But I lost a few of them in a row. Don’t go swimming while wearing your cross if you don’t want to lose it. Whoops.
Now I’m done buying the crosses, and so I don’t wear one right now. They’re only $5 or so at the church, I just don’t want to keep buying them. The next cross that I have will be one that someone gives me; I’m waiting for that to happen. That would make the cross more special to me.
But having gone all this time without wearing the cross, I realized that I don’t even need one! My faith and connection to Christ has gotten stronger through all this, and so I know that always have Christ with me, whether I have a cross to physically wear or not. In John 4:48 Jesus tells a man asking for healing for a sick son to just have some faith, dammit. John 4:48 (New International Version) says:
“Unless you people see signs and wonders,” Jesus told him, “you will never believe.”
(If you haven’t read The Bible, don’t worry about that guy’s son; Jesus heals him in John 4:50. Sorry that is kind of minor spoilers for the Gospel of John.)
And so we should always have faith in God, regardless of what we see or don’t see. Therefore, I don’t need to wear a physical cross around my neck to have faith that there is always a cross hanging there, for so long as I keep loving Christ, giving thanks to God, and acting like a Christian every day, as best I can.
But when I do get my next cross, I will be sure to continue trying my best to act in such a way as to be worthy of wearing it. I hope the people who see it on me will trust that I be God-fearing. It’s on me to act that way and honor their trust. If I choose to wear that symbol around my neck, and I believe in it, then it’s on me to uphold its integrity.