I realized at Mass this past Sunday as I held my son in my arms, my back straining from the extra weight, that it was much more difficult for me to kneel down during the consecration, in fact it felt like my own little calvary. That’s when it hit me. I was literally carrying my cross.
“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” – Matthew 16:24
1. Denying Yourself
Being a parent, raising children is a surefire way of denying yourself. Your life is no longer centered only around your own selfish, self-centered desires. If it is, then you’re doing it wrong. Parenthood is the perfect opportunity for us to learn to live for others. Let’s be honest, denying yourself doesn’t sound fun. And sometimes parenting isn’t fun. There are those difficult moments when you question how you got here. But it’s supposed to be that way. It’s meant to cause you to reflect, to struggle, to grow and learn. God designed it all that way on purpose.
His plan for your life is to make you a saint, to teach you through the experiences of your everyday life how to love as He loves. After all, that’s what the saints in Heaven have come to know. And if you and I hope to spend our eternity with Him, that’s exactly what we need Him to teach us. So welcome to parenthood, God’s life-long, crash course in the denial of self. You’ve got a head start towards Heaven if you take advantage of the gift that is putting yourself aside to be a parent.
2. Taking Up Your Cross
Crosses come in all shapes and sizes, textures and colors. Some are much heavier than others. While some are easier to bear. Some rub you the wrong way. Some are a like a splinter in your side. But I believe that God gives you the crosses you need. It’s not random chance, happenstance, or coincidence. God doesn’t work that way. He is intentional about everything He does in your life.
That means that God picked your child’s personality. He made them that way for a reason. And He knows that often times you will have to deal with rebellion and disobedience. Of course, He knows all about that. He too is an experience father. After all, He has dealt with you and I when we have rebelled and been disobedient, hasn’t He? He knows that it won’t be easy to carry your cross and that your children might not fall into the perfect little image you once had of them. He also knows that through carrying that cross you will not only be leading your children, but growing in holiness yourself, all while getting to know in a profoundly deeper way, how much He loves you.
3. Following Jesus
What does it really mean to follow Jesus? Let me burst your bubble by saying that it’s more than fulfilling your Sunday Mass obligation. Of course, He wants to see you present and participating on Sunday, but He doesn’t want to see you only once a week. Following Jesus is a lifestyle, a journey, a love affair. Does that sound like your relationship with Jesus? If not, it’s okay, He’s always willing to work with you.
If you think about the men who followed Jesus, you will get a better idea for what it really means to follow Him. We hear in the Gospel accounts that Jesus called them and they left everything behind to follow Him. They didn’t question Him. They didn’t try to hold on to who they were before that encounter. There were no ifs, ands, or buts about it. He called. They followed. And their lives were never the same again.
As a parent, there is nothing more important in your life than to lead your children to Jesus. That means that your primary goal, mission, and purpose as a parent is to get your children to Heaven. Ultimately, the choice is theirs, but you have a great deal of influence over them as a parent and I hope you take that seriously. Most importantly, remember that it’s not only what you say that matters here, but what you do, who you are.
Ask yourself these questions on a daily basis: Do I model for my children what it means to be a follower of Jesus? Can they see in me a reflection of Jesus Christ? Did my words and actions today lead them closer to Jesus or push them further away?