I’ve been practicing contemplative prayer for about two years. For me, these practices include centering prayer, Lectio Divina, breath prayer, walking meditation, collage prayer, yoga, and the labyrinth. I have participated in spiritual formation groups and visit a spiritual director monthly. I’ve seen small bits of transformation in myself during this time as I gaze upon God and allow God to gaze upon me. These practices build depth, beauty, and enrich my spiritual life in ways that are difficult to translate into mere words.
In a spiritual formation group recently, we shared what the theme “take up your cross,” from Luke 9:18-27 meant to each of us. As Christians, we sometimes struggle with this concept, because we believe and somehow have been taught that these verses mean to deny ourselves of ourself, to deny our feelings, our desires, to always give or acquiesce our wishes for others. Over time, this can create anger and resentment, because deep down we know this is not truth.
I had operated this way for many years. I was “playing” a person, a role of what I thought I was supposed to be in order to be “Christian”, especially a “good Christian”. It even entered into what I perceived to be my role as a “Christian mother.” I did not understand then, that taking up my cross with that type of lens, meant giving up my True-Self, in other words, the person God made me to be. Outward behavior was priority, while the heart was ignored or buried. Upon sharing in my spiritual formation group, I acknowledged this struggle as part of my own. Then I began to share how I now understood the following verses.
“For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?”
I had written my thoughts down when doing the study earlier in the week. I remember smiling to myself and feeling grateful for new insights, as I had read these verses hundreds of times before, but with my behavioral lens rather than God’s loving “you are enough” lens.
I now understood, when I try to “save my life”, I am working from a behavior focused lens, striving, achieving, not even aware of myself. For example, I tried to be a what I thought was the perfect parent or wife while ignoring the deep beauty of my inner self, the part of me connected to God simply because I am made in God's image. This is how I lose my life, how I lose my True Self. I am unaware of who I am, unaware of God. But if I let go, trust God, experience God, and “just be”, I will save my life, because of God’s immeasurable love.
It’s counter intuitive, especially for our American culture. The verse goes on to with “what good is it to gain the whole world” which is also about striving for and achieving our identity. This could be really anything that is shaped by how we want to be perceived by others; such as wealth, fame, success. This striving can even be the desire to be perceived as a “believer” or “strong” Christian. This gaining of the whole world represents building our ego-self and thus our False-Self. In the process, we lose our very selves and become divided or not whole.
What I love most about spiritual formation groups is the transformation and intimacy with God and each other that happens in our moments together. We find ourselves in a safe and sacred space, which allows us to be open and vulnerable. New depth and dimensions are discovered together. As we share with one another, our bond grows, our lens of God becomes a little clearer, and we experience God's gentle love as individuals and collectively. It’s beautiful to experience and behold.
My contemplative practices help me to learn to let go, to truly experience God, to be more self-aware and God-aware. By allowing spaciousness in my life, I’m free to open up to God in a way I never have before and God graciously, gently, and lovingly enters in.
So I've come to understand that picking up my cross is more about letting go rather than striving. After all, Jesus said, “For my yoke is easy and my burden light.” Matthew 11:30
Hello, I'm Kathi Gatlin. Thanks for stopping by!