Christ tells us that we must pick up our crosses and follow Him. And so we do. Most of the time, we carry those crosses pretty well. Sure, it’s heavy. It’s not always convenient. There are people who blatantly tell us it’s a stupid thing to do: bear a cross for someone whose existence they say we cannot prove. But we carry on.
And then there are times when our cross gets so heavy our knees buckle. We fall. Our mouth is full of dust and dirt. We’ve skinned our knees and elbows. We lay there, under a cross that seems far too heavy for one person. We just don’t know if we can carry on.
Denise C. McAllister has some advice. When you see someone lying there, bloodied and exhausted, with their cross bearing down on them, help them. Pick up their cross, set it aside for a moment. Cleanse their wounds and offer a drink of water. Then, when they are ready, help them stand. Then carry their cross, along with yours, just for a bit, until they are able to take the weight of that cross back.
McAllister was raised by a Marine Corps father, who instilled in her a “get it done” attitude. But she knows that sometimes, we can’t “get it done” on our own:
[O]ftentimes in life, people need more. They need a different kind of encouragement. They need an advocate who will speak on their behalf, even against themselves and their own negative thoughts. They need someone to come alongside them and give them strength because they are empty, broken, poured out, and hopeless.
They don’t just need praise or inspirational slogans; they need someone to enter into their life in a personal way and fill them with courage. This involves getting to know them, reminding them of who they really are, comforting them with love, exhorting them, and counseling them. Bottom line, it takes active involvement from the encourager.
Americans tend to value hard work and the ability to accomplish things on our own. We romanticize cowboys: those men who take care of business, not needing help from anyone. Moms get a dose of guilt whenever they buy cupcakes for a class party instead of making them at home. Our kids are pushed into sports and band and reading clubs and study sessions because parents are afraid that without a healthy “resume,'” their kid won’t get into college. The careers we choose often define us, rather than being defined by our faith and character.
And we do work hard. Until we can’t.
Maybe it’s an illness. Maybe it’s a job, or lack of one. Maybe your kid has gone off the rails and you don’t know where to turn. Maybe it’s that we are so in debt we don’t know how we’ll ever be able to manage our finances.
That’s when we hit the dirt, face plant, with that cross on our back. And we cry out, “God, where are you?? I need help and I’m so alone. God!!!” We feel weak, lonely, forgotten. McAllister:
The need for encouragement is part of living in this world, and we aren’t doing one another any favors by not giving it. The Bible is full of exhortations to encourage one another. Why? Why not just say, “Rely on yourself” or only “Trust in God” (although there is that too). Why are there so many passages that say “encourage one another”? Because life is difficult, and it’s human to struggle, spiritually, physically, and emotionally.
We need our family and friends to build us up. We need our bosses to remind us of what we can really accomplish, inspiring us to greatness. We need our coaches, counselors, teachers, and pastors to come alongside us and spur us on with boldness and love. When we don’t have it, we flounder and fail, and even if we somehow overcome, we aren’t always happy and we’re certainly not humbled.
Asking for help, to say we’re in need, to say we just can’t do it alone is not weakness. That is probably one of the hardest things to do. Many people don’t ask, so those of us who can give need to be on the lookout for the needy, for the ones who are struggling and encourage them. Is there someone in your life who is downcast, angry, withdrawn, underperforming, overwhelmed? Why ignore them? Why think, “They’ll get it together on their own”—or worse, “It’s not my place to get involved. I did it alone; they’ll have to make it on their own too”?
We can do so much better. If there is someone in your life, either at school, work, church, in the neighborhood, and you know they are suffering or discouraged in some way, help them. You will be better for it, and so will they.
Today, if you need help with that cross, ask. Someone in your life will step up and help. And if someone today needs your help, then pick up their cross, along with yours, and walk alongside them until they are ready to carry it again themselves. Needing help is not weakness, and offering help is not being judgmental.
For I want you to know how great a struggle I am having for you … and all who have not seen me face to face, that their hearts may be encouraged as they are brought together in love, to have all the richness of fully assured understanding, for the knowledge of the mystery of God, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Col. 2:1-3