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  • Writer's pictureThe Rev. Beth Knowlton

Denial Requires Discernment

“Jesus called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me”. Mark 8:31-38

Casual conversation rarely drifts to what one might benefit from by practicing a little restraint. Even less likely to emerge is what it might mean for us in our daily lives to take up our cross as part of our invitation to follow Jesus more closely. Frankly, I think I’d ask Jesus to please quiet down and stop talking about suffering so much. Like Peter, I am more likely to be rebuked than to easily allow space for really imagining what I need to give up to follow God.

The season of Lent is a gift in that way. We are offered an opportunity to ask the hard questions. But they are hard. As someone said in our Lectionary Bible Study this week, “this isn’t exactly a great marketing pitch!” And yet in our more serious moments we know the reality and unavoidable nature of suffering in our own lives and in the world.

Sometimes we hear the call to take up our cross as one that embraces suffering for suffering’s sake. If we could only find a way to endure and not complain, somehow, we would become stronger in the process. Yet that line of thinking doesn’t really line up with an invitation to fullness of life, does it?

Through the years I’ve been helped tremendously by my spiritual director when on more than one occasion she has said, “I don’t think that is the cross you are being asked to bear.” For me, that statement evokes an invitation to discern.

There is much suffering in the world, and I am called to make sacrifices to alleviate that suffering. But to really take seriously the question of which cross I should bear expands the questions in a helpful way. What is the cross that allows me to follow Jesus more closely?

Jesus calls us to empty ourselves so that we can get out of the way of ourselves. My pride, my view of my own competency, and even my talents sometimes impede my reliance on God. I drift into a place of grabbing control, and I might start grabbing crosses that, in all likelihood, have nothing to do with following Jesus.

Instead, they are about proving something to myself about endurance. Sometimes the harder cross to bear is asking for help or setting a boundary that someone else might experience as unkind. These are not easy matters to figure out and they do require discernment. What am I being asked to let go of that allows me to grow more fully into the person God wants me to be? How might sitting with this question during Lent allow for a different view of suffering?

I pray we each have time to reflect on how we can follow the way of new life in a way that honors the suffering we all encounter without it overwhelming us.


Peace, Beth +


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