My friend Bush is a kind man with intense focus, only broken by the odd joke and corresponding side laugh. He is Indigenous, a survivor of residential schools, and has a history of homelessness. I first met Bush and his partner at a permanent supportive housing apartment where I was working night-shift. His intense focus made interactions awkward at times, only because I was an awkward young punk to begin with. He later joined a bible study I was hosting. This gave us lots to talk about as he was serious about his faith in God.
Holding back tears he would grab my shoulder.
When he left the housing apartment, we lost touch. Occasionally I saw him around and we shared focused conversations about faith and life (lightly salted with the odd joke or two.) Sometimes he was intoxicated when we met. During those times, deep shame darkened his eyes upon recognizing me. Holding back tears he would grab my shoulder and stare at me with eyes that were both joyous and pained. He would only shake his head and say ‘pray for me... pray for me’ over and over again.
One evening out of the blue, I got a phone call from Bush. He said “Hi. I am working on a scripture.” (You see what I mean when I say focused.) He then took me to Luke 14: 26-27
"If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple."
My first instinct was that he wanted to talk about something that was preventing him from bearing the cross of Jesus. Perhaps a relationship, a possession, or an addiction was holding him back. This instinct likely came from my middle-class psyche formed from modern church culture. It is hard for the average middle-class Christian to hate their lives and families for the cross-shaped gospel.
And the things in his life he did cherish, he easily gave away.
For people like Bush, it is a bit different. Like many other people in his situation, Bush has little love for family when residential school created a divide between his mother, father, children, brothers and sisters. Bush has little love for his own life when he was indoctrinated to believe he was worthless. And the things in his life he did cherish, he easily gave away. Like many friends I know in his situation, Bush has sacrificed his life (money, possessions, smokes, his home) many times so that another – his partner, a friend, a stranger – would be better off than him.
To my surprise, Bush asked me not about sacrificing it all for the sake of Jesus. He asked rather, ‘was he sacrificing too much?’ With deliberate precision, he spoke: “it says, ‘bear your own cross’, what about other people’s crosses? I think I may be bearing another person’s cross and not just my own”.
The vision I had for my life was constant suffering.
I did not know what to say. I had never looked at this scripture in this way before. After we hung up, I underlined my Bible and let the words, now glistening in a new light, penetrate my heart.
At the time, I was working two different jobs - day shifts during the week and night shifts during the weekend. I had little sense of boundaries. This was partly cultural (my Croatian father has little regard for physical space; my Filipino mother has little regard for private space), but it was more personal. I had a very low view of myself and the vision I had for my life was constant suffering, pain and, general cross-bearing – all of which I deserved anyway. This got me into trouble: constant burnout, bending of policies and bringing bed bugs in my home of 7 roommates. However, I counted it all trivial and necessary for the sake of Christ.
I have taken upon myself the title of Saviour
Bush challenged it all through the question, ‘am I bearing another person’s cross?’ Am I bearing more than God has assigned for me? If so all my sacrifice and pain was in vain and – even more damning – my sacrifice was itself an act of selfish penance. In effect, I was proclaiming that Jesus’ cross was not enough; I had to add to it my own pain and sacrifice. I must take someone’s poverty onto my own back for I don’t believe God has done or is doing enough.
Jayakumar Christian calls this playing god in the lives of the poor. Instead of trusting in God’s Kingdom to deliver the poor, I have taken upon myself the title of Saviour: a title which bears an impossibly crushing weight. In the struggle not to buckle under, I inevitably hurt myself and the ones I am trying to serve.
Bush taught me to bear my own cross – a toothpick compared to Jesus’ own which endured all sin and shame including mine. The back of Christ which bore sin and death is sufficient. I must trust in him. I must empty myself in order to care for my self for the road ahead is long. Thank you Bush.
Originally posted at: https://dojustice.crcna.org/article/bear-your-own-cross-selfless-self-care