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The Cross: Finding Balance
This is the last post in my three-part mini-series on the cross. In my first post I talked about how it is necessary to express the "horizontal" aspect of the cross by staying connected with the people around you. Then in my last post I talked about how it is equally necessary to express the "vertical" aspect of the cross by spending alone time with God each and every day, cultivating a deeper sense of spirituality. Today I want to talk about how it is important to keep these two dimensions in balance with each other.
What does an out of balance cross look like? On the one hand, someone who has neglected the horizontal aspect will probably look like a bit of a recluse, whether they acknowledge that or not. They might cultivate two different identities: the face they can put on around church friends, and the face they can put on around everyone else. I feel like this has described me on more than one occassion! So I don't mean to point fingers by writing this, but I do mean to stimulate a healthy sense of self-examination.
Jesus did not cultivate his own deeper sense of spirituality and oneness with the Father only to hide it behind closed doors and keep it to himself. Nor did St. Paul wait until he had all of his ducks lined up in a row before he started boldly preaching the gospel and healing others. Christianity exists to be a positive influence in the world, to make waves in an ocean of suffering and selfishness. Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of my church, once wrote, "sea captains on shore are of no use." Too much focus on the transcendental without the balance of the human side of things can breed self-righteousness and hypocrisy, or it can just be a mask to hide our own fears of actually living the things we like to talk about.
Stepping out of ones comfort zone is never easy. Jesus said, "Whenever a woman is in labor she has pain, because her hour has come; but when she gives birth to the child, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy that a child has been born into the world." The newborn child that he speaks of there is a great metaphor for your own life purpose. The downward tendencies of the world would try to miscarry your life purpose. But we each have to rouse ourselves from the sleepy or frightened tendencies to hide away from the world. We need to get out there and shine. Just this morning a friend asked me, "are you being an influence in the world, or are you letting the world influence you?" This is a question we should all be asking ourselves every day. And in order to be an influence for others, you actually have to talk to them.
On the flip side, the cross might also be out of balance if someone has neglected the vertical. That kind of individual goes with the flow and is more interested in "keeping the peace" than making waves that might offend somebody (unless those waves try to justify a pet sin). Jesus gave two great commandments: to love God supremely, and to love others as we love ourselves. But the order of those two commandments matters! We need to put God first, before people. When we're more interested in pleasing others (or ourselves) than we are pleasing God, this also diminishes our own life purpose - or confuses it. That could include idolizing someone as a source of happiness, like a lover for instance. Or it could mean idolizing someone as a source of unhappiness, like a hated politician.
A neglect of the "divinity" aspect of the cross also tends to shut down our natural, childlike willingness to be corrected. It shuts off healthy self-examination and stifles our spiritual progress, defending this stagnation in the name of "compassion." Mary Baker Eddy also wrote, "One thing all must do - watch, and if anything looks like leaning away from God, drop it instantly." How willing are we to let go, instantly, of anything that would hinder our own progress, whether that's a questionable relationship, or another drink, or even long-cherished patterns of thinking? I realize that's a tall order. But at the end of the day, are those things really drawing us closer to God? Do they really leave us feeling more fulfilled?
Here are some questions to consider together as we enter this new year and try to find a more balanced sense of the cross:
- Do I have two identities, or one? Do I hide one of them from society?
- Am I afraid of bringing God into the conversation? Why?
- When's the last time I influenced someone in a conversation in a meaningful way?
- What is my life purpose? Does that purpose serve God more than it serves me?
- Who or what am I making gods out of? Who am I making devils out of?
- How much time do I honestly spend in prayer each day? Are my prayers effective?
- Have I actually read the Bible? Do I actually know what it is I claim to believe in?
I challenge you to take each of these questions as they apply to yourself, not as a tool for correcting others. It's not our province to work out someone else's salvation, only our own.