NOTE: Having been out of the country in a place where internet access ranges from excruciatingly slow to absent, I have been unable to post until now. Despite the long interval since my last post, the following will make more sense if you have read the previous post.
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Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Why would anyone choose the way of the cross, given the level of sacrifice and suffering involved?
The initial months of my engagement with the Spiritual Exercises were dedicated to retracing the activity of God in my life, going as far back as I could remember. What became clear as I contemplated my life is that God has been present to me since infancy. I was able to elaborate specific instances where God was leading and moving in my life even though I had no sense of His presence at the time. Eventually, in my late teens, I became aware of God and began seeking Him, however half-heartedly or misdirected that effort might have been. I dug into the Bible, taught Sunday school classes, preached in churches, ran Bible studies, memorized Scripture, participated in evangelism, put on workshops, prayed, read books. Why? Where did all that come from?
Now, here I am, 58 years into my life, still pursuing God. What this pursuit looks like has changed remarkably from those early years. I do not believe what I used to believe; I have adopted new understandings of my life; and the intensity of my pursuit has ramped up significantly. I experience suffering and sacrifice as never before. Yet, I continue. Why? It would be far easier and I would have more apparent peace in my life were I to just “chill” and stop the craziness that seeking God involves. But I am, and always have been, compelled to seek. I am driven, mysteriously.
You did not choose Me but I chose you.
These words of Jesus are not simply a statement of doctrine. I have landed on this notion of having been chosen to carry a cross because I have no other answer to the question, “Why?” I have been chosen to seek God, but I experience this chosen-ness not as some kind of privilege, but as a driven-ness. I have been chosen to pursue holiness and so I feel compelled to be holy. I have been chosen to endure the suffering that quitting self requires and so I spend a great deal more time than most considering my failures and planning changes and ultimately asking for forgiveness, again… and again. Why do I subject myself to this? Why do I live my life this way? It is because I am special? I am hardly so deluded. Is it because I stand a better-than-average chance of success? I fail far too often to even consider the possibility. Did I decide that I would be better off? I have already argued that this conclusion is problematic.
You did not choose Me but I chose you. I have been chosen for the life that I have. The life that I live has been chosen for me by the only wise God. Jesus said that the life of the cross will be hard, and, so, when life gets hard, I remember that He, the God of grace and mercy and love, has chosen my life for me. That knowledge makes all the difference. A “great cloud of witnesses” endured suffering and sacrifice because they were chosen. And, because they were chosen to do so, they ran the race with endurance.
Though I suffer and sacrifice; though I find days impossibly difficult; though I fail completely and routinely; though I live in the midst of the mysterious, the enigmatic, the unexplained, and the invisible; though He slay me, which He surely will do, I have no doubt that I will continue so long as God chooses to draw me onward. I am driven to do so. And, through my miserable little life, in some mysterious way, His great name will be glorified, as is the case for everyone who is called by My name, And whom I have created for My glory. Though I do not understand how that will happen, that God will be glorified makes everything ultimately worthwhile.