Choosing to do Hard Things
Updated: Sep 2
Great crowds were traveling with Jesus, and he turned and addressed them, “If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. Which of you wishing to construct a tower does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if there is enough for its completion? Otherwise, after laying the foundation and finding himself unable to finish the work the onlookers should laugh at him and say, ‘This one began to build but did not have the resources to finish.’ Or what king marching into battle would not first sit down and decide whether with ten thousand troops he can successfully oppose another king advancing upon him with twenty thousand troops? But if not, while he is still far away, he will send a delegation to ask for peace terms. In the same way, anyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple.”
Choosing to do hard things
We are familiar with marketers and advertisers trying to sell us on things that we don’t really need and promising that it will be painless. A few months into making car payments for a vehicle that exceeds our budget paints a different picture.
Christ does not beat around the bush. When people are ready to take the next step, he asks for everything. He says that in order to be his disciples, they have to carry their cross and come after him. We want to look at three verbs: carry, come, and disciple.
Everybody has crosses, but as Christians, we are able to carry our crosses with purpose. It is a testament to the importance of the Christ event in history that we universally refer to difficult situations as crosses. Other men and women were crucified, but thanks to Jesus, we are as aware as we are of this tremendous form of capital punishment.
When we expect life to be easy, it becomes tough. So often, we face difficult situations. Why are we surprised? Life can often be tough. It is up to us to rise to the occasion and make sure that we are giving the best of ourselves in every moment.
Karol Wojtyla, the man we know as St. John Paul II, knew how to carry his cross daily. He had a rough childhood, losing first his mother and then his brother. Entering the seminary clandestinely for fear of the Nazi regime, he was ordained a priest in Communist Poland. A strong intellectual, he had as well a pastoral soul and helped especially young couples to see their love in the context of God’s marvelous plan for their lives.
A bishop and then a cardinal, his life changed when he was 58 years old and was elected to the See of Peter. It changed again three years later when he was shot in St. Peter’s Square. Physical pain seemed to follow him the rest of his life, exacerbated by the onset of Parkinson’s which ultimately cost him the ability to speak and move freely, as he was wont to do.
These words denote the radicality of a choice that does not allow for hesitation or second thoughts. It is a demanding requirement that unsettled even the disciples and that, throughout the ages, has held back many men and women from following Christ. But precisely this radicality has also produced admirable examples of sanctity and martyrdom that strengthened and confirmed the way of the Church. (Pope John Paul II, Message for XVI World Youth Day, 14 February 2001)
What does it mean that Christ asks us to come? It means that he himself has taken the same road.
Jesus walks ahead of his followers and asks each one to do as he himself has done. He says: I have not come to be served, but to serve; so, whoever wants to be like me must be the servant of everyone. I have come to you as one who possesses nothing; for this reason, I can ask you to leave all riches behind which prevent you from entering the Kingdom of Heaven. (Pope John Paul II, Message for XVI World Youth Day, 14 February 2001)
For anybody else to speak like Jesus would be presumptuous. We are not to follow anybody else the way we follow Jesus. We are able to follow him, because he is the “Way, the Truth, and the Life.” (cf. Jn. 14:6)
Jesus is not trying to lay down a series of hard precepts on us. When we think that the commandments of God and the Church are harsh, it is because we have become corrupted by the world. We perceive things in an imprecise way as if we had cataracts on our eyes. When we allow the Law of God to guide us in our daily actions, the scales come off and we are able to see the faith in all its beauty. The Devil has a way of presenting things so that they look good, but when we indulge, they make us sick and weak. The things of God look challenging and hard but lead to deep happiness and joy.
To be a disciple is to be like the master. When we try to be discipled by Christ, we try to learn to be like he is. We are familiar with the figure of the guru – an expert in some subject that others flock to in order to learn as well. Christ is a much deeper figure since he is able to effect real change in our interior.
What can we learn from Jesus? We can learn to look at the real value of things. When anybody says the word “easy,” be careful. Life is not easy. Life is often hard and difficult, and that is ok. Look at your life and see the shortcuts that you are trying to take and how you are trying to make things easy and comfortable for yourself. There is nothing wrong with comfort, but there is a problem when the comfort makes me feel entitled to having everything given to me without having to put in the work. Choose one hard thing to do this week. It is good to do hard things. Take up your cross, and follow Christ!