“Take up your cross” is a monumental call. Being willing to suffer and die for the sake of others is the hardest thing I can imagine. But the call to take up your cross is harder even than that.
It’s easy to limit it to literal martyrdom, something which most of us will never face and which can seem rather romantic as a remote possibility. As the world collapses, some evil dictator demands that you renounce Christ or face the firing squad, and you boldly refuse, choosing death.
I do not deny the courage and honor of such a situation should it occur. But since it’s unlikely for most of us, what else can it mean to take up our cross?
St. Augustine said it meant to “Put up with all that is annoying.” Well that’s certainly not very romantic or heroic sounding. But there’s something important in it.
Your cross is the hardest thing, and, importantly, the thing that you don’t actually have to do. Remember, Jesus was innocent and it was within his power to prove it and avoid the cross. He bore it up willingly, without complaint, sacrificing what he had a right to and enduring scorn, torture, and death.
In most daily situations, the hardest or most annoying thing is not physical torture and death, but something like being misunderstood, or having credit misattributed to someone else, or kindly listening to a chatterbox, or refusing to say a true but negative word, or wanting the best for someone who cut you off in traffic. You would be within your rights, strictly speaking, to not do any of these things. But the small sacrifice of doing them anyway and without complaint is your cross.
It doesn’t mean just to suffer for its own sake or to be a doormat. Jesus certainly was not. It means, like Him, recognizing that doing what you are allowed to do often robs you of a greater birthright. By forgoing glory on earth, Jesus claimed eternal glory for himself and for us. By forgoing a petty complaint you have a right to lodge against someone, you begin to see a vastly more important battle to fight and win.
These crosses don’t just bring you low, they allow you to be someone who is raised up.