Many nonmembers who visit our chapels wonder why we don’t have crosses on our buildings of worship. They ask, “Why aren’t your chapels built in the shape of a cross?” and “Why don’t you encourage your people to wear and display crosses?” Even some members wonder about the Church’s policy toward crosses.
We may find part of the answer to these questions in Matthew 16:24–25, where we read, “Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.
“For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.” [Matt. 16:24–25]
Over the centuries, in the minds of millions of people, the cross has been recognized as a symbol of Christianity. But rather than displaying the cross, we prefer to try carrying our crosses.
The Lord’s message to us is “Take up your cross.” Take yourself the way you are, and lift yourself in the direction of the better. Regardless of where you have been, what you have done, or what you haven’t done, trust God. Believe in him. Worship him as you carry your cross with dignity and determination.
As we read in Matthew, we save our lives by losing them for the Lord’s sake. As we lose ourselves, we will find God. That is his promise, and I declare that it is true.
But what kind of cross do we each bear? what is its shape, weight, size, or dimension? The crosses we may carry are many: the cross of loneliness, the cross of physical limitations—loss of a leg, an arm, hearing, seeing, or mobility. These are obvious crosses. We see people with these crosses, and we admire their strength in carrying them with dignity. Poor health can be a cross, as can transgression, success, temptation, beauty, fame, or wealth. Financial burdens can be a cross. So can criticism or peer rejection.
But there are many crosses in life that, though real, are not always recognized or visible. One type of cross is that of violated trust on the part of a parent, a family member, a teacher, a bishop, a member of the stake presidency, a boyfriend, a girlfriend, a co-worker, or a classmate.
Some of us let an act of mistrust on the part of someone close to us shatter our todays and tomorrows. A friend of mine said, “When my father left my mother for his secretary, it was more than I could bear.” She was bitter. This cross was causing her to crumble. She had never looked upon it as a cross, but she felt great hatred and resentment.
Another woman said, “When my boyfriend talked me into a couple of drinks and then took advantage of me, it caused me never to trust anyone again.” That cross was breaking her, partly because she has yet to decide that, with God’s help, she can carry it.
In his book Life of Joseph Smith the Prophet (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1986), George Q. Cannon points out repeatedly that the greatest cross Joseph Smith had to bear—and he had many—was the cross of trusted friends who were not worthy of the word trust. His heartaches, his inconveniences, and his death were caused by those who had betrayed his trust.
Another cross that isn’t always visible but that on occasion can be very heavy and worrisome is the lack of self-esteem—a continuing unwillingness to accept oneself. Can you find it in your heart to once in a while give yourself a “good grade” on your behavior? Or do you give yourself low marks no matter what you do? Self-condemnation and low self-esteem are heavy crosses.
Sometimes, in solitude and in humility, you must be your own advocate. Sometimes you need to be the one who refuses to condemn yourself.
Being “down on oneself” is a destructive situation. If we bear this kind of cross, we may reach the levels we expect of ourselves. What a cross—to convince ourself that we are no good, and that we can’t do it or can’t make it! But by lifting that cross, we can become more than we would have been had we not been required to carry it.
Some of us spend too much time protecting our wounded selves. Wishing that we were some other person with greater talents and greater strengths is a handicap. It is also a cross to bear when we fail to realize that, with God’s help, we can accomplish much. We can learn to be like Ammon, who, in one of my favorite quotations from the Book of Mormon, said:
“I do not boast in my own strength, nor in my own wisdom; but behold, my joy is full, yea, my heart is brim with joy, and I will rejoice in my God.
“Yea, I know that I am nothing; as to my strength I am weak; therefore I will not boast of myself, but I will boast of my God, for in his strength I can do all things.” (Alma 26:11–12.)
I wish we would believe and practice what he said. Many people who have been called to positions of responsibility humbly say, “God, I’m weak, but with your help, I can do it.” We need to give him a chance to help us lift that cross. And when he helps us, we will praise him as Ammon did:
“Behold, many mighty miracles we have wrought in this land, for which we will praise his name forever.
“Behold, how many thousands of our brethren has he loosed from the pains of hell; and they are brought to sing redeeming love, and this because of the power of his word which is in us, therefore have we not great reason to rejoice?” (Alma 26:12–13.)
God can make our crosses easier to bear if we are willing to seek his help. In Doctrine and Covenants 56:2, we read the Lord’s words: “He that will not take up his cross and follow me, and keep my commandments, the same shall not be saved.” [D&C 56:2]
The scriptures say, “Behold, he who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more.” (D&C 58:42.) It’s true. We can learn to repent and to forgive ourselves. Unfortunately, some of us would rather carry a cross farther than we need to rather than confess and start anew.
Another cross is that of resistance to counsel. Some of us have a tendency to resent, resist, rebel, delay, or debate worthy direction, supervision, or communication. We may think, “Who are you to tell me?” “Why all the restrictions?” “Where does agency come in?” or “Why don’t you just leave me alone?”
We may reject counsel because it causes us inconvenience or because we cannot see its value. I plead with you to avoid the ranks of counsel resisters; prayerfully follow the counsel you are given.
Sometimes we are given crosses so that we can learn to pray. In counsel recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 23:6, Joseph Knight was told that he should pray: “Behold, I manifest unto you, Joseph Knight, by these words, that you must take up your cross, in the which you must pray vocally before the world as well as in secret, and in your family, and among your friends, and in all places.” [D&C 23:6]
Crosses become more manageable when we learn to pray and when we learn to wait for an answer. An unwillingness to listen and learn can be a silent cross of considerable weight. Pray constantly—even when answers are slow or difficult to accept.
Some of us who live in LDS population centers carry a unique cross—that of complacency and lack of gospel enthusiasm because there are so many members to fill a prescribed number of Church assignments.
Others live in locations where strength, commitment, and attendance make a great difference. I am reminded of the conversation of two boys—the only two deacons in a small branch. One of them said, “I must be awfully important, because I’m 50 percent!”
How sad and untrue is the statement, “There aren’t enough Church jobs to go around.”
Another cross—sometimes invisible, but tremendously negative—is a tendency to make caustic comments—to ridicule, putting others or oneself down, to cause contention, or to engage in slander or gossip.
In 2 Nephi 26:32, we read, “The Lord God hath commanded … that [men] should not contend one with another.” If you have a caustic tongue, try to manage it. A home full of contention is more than a cross; it is a curse. [2 Ne. 26:32]
Another cross some may have to bear is that of adulation. When people speak well of you and treat you with great respect, be careful that you don’t start to believe all they say of you. Be wise. Being honored, pointed out, and recognized can distort your perspective if you lose your humility among the plaudits.
Praise of the world can be a heavy cross. Over the years I have often heard it said that this person or that one was “great until he became successful, and then he couldn’t handle it.” I’m not talking about money or position; I’m talking about recognition. We should honor callings and responsibilities. But I pray that we would avoid being carried away by praise, success, or even achieving goals that we have set for ourselves. In Mormon 8:38–39 we read:
“O ye pollutions, ye hypocrites, ye teachers, who sell yourselves for that which will canker, why have ye polluted the holy church of God? Why are ye ashamed to take upon you the name of Christ? Why do ye not think that greater is the value of an endless happiness than that misery which never dies—because of the praise of the world?
“Why do ye adorn yourselves with that which hath no life, and yet suffer the hungry, and the needy, and the naked, and the sick and the afflicted to pass by you, and notice them not?” [Morm. 8:38–39]
How great in the sight of the Lord are those who, though they are recognized, honored, and respected, realize in their hearts that true greatness is found in following the Savior and help those who are sick, afflicted, discouraged, homeless, and burdened with crosses.
And so we do not reverence crosses. Instead, we strive to carry them with dignity and power. It is our right and responsibility to carry our crosses, and while we’re doing it, to have the good sense and judgment to count our blessings, as the hymn tells us:
Are you ever burdened with a load of care?
Does the cross seem heavy you are called to bear?
Count your many blessings; ev’ry doubt will fly,
And you will be singing as the days go by.
(Hymns, 1985, no. 241.)
There is a strength that comes to us when we count our blessings as we labor under crosses that may sometimes seem unreasonable and unfair, but that can be for our good. I bear witness to you that carrying our crosses and following the Savior will bring us strength, peace, and purpose in our quest for the abundant life. God has made that promise. May we carry our crosses with strength and purpose; and while we do, may we count the blessings of God’s strength so that, with his help, we can succeed in that quest.