Shortly after stepping into my dream job, after waiting more than two years to finally work in my field, I found myself gripped with anxiety so strong I was barely able to sit at my desk. I was freshly 26, working as a counselor and eager to start my long-awaited career when a deafening question hurled me into an abyss of torment and anxiety over a mistake I had made in graduate school.
I had never known anxiety like the kind that wracked my physical body in those days. Every thought was fear-laced, and I just knew I was spilling out of my mind. My emotions and feelings and mind accused me day in and day out about my flaws, my shortcomings, and my inadequacies so much so that I questioned the authenticity of my salvation and was in torment over the fear of going to hell. Thoughts like, that mistake was so big, too big in fact. The blood of Jesus can’t cover that when you haven't done enough to fix it, and if the blood doesn't cover it, you’re up for judgement and hell.
I felt so out of control and at a loss that I was constantly seeking Jesus desperately for help and for an instantaneous deliverance. I was so convinced of these “voices” that the Voice of the Word, which spoke of grace and mercy and forgiveness wasn’t reaching me.
The following months began a season of deep uprooting of misshapen core beliefs, a re-centering on Truth, and receiving a mercy for myself that only the Father could give. This season would help me rethink and live out what it meant for me to carry my cross and follow Jesus.
When we think of the call to carry our cross, the model often sounds like a form of denying oneself a comfort or preference in order to follow Jesus along a journey that will undoubtedly curate and reveal a higher, purer, or more glorified version of yourself and your mission. This is certainly a type of embracing the cross and being conformed to Christlikeness, however, taking up our cross to follow Christ to conform to his will and purpose also looks like transformation.
The Amplified version lists the familiar scripture of Mark 8:34 this way: “Jesus called the crowd together with His disciples, and said to them, “If anyone wishes to follow Me [as My disciple], he must deny himself [set aside selfish interests], and take up his cross [expressing a willingness to endure whatever may come] and follow Me [believing in Me, conforming to My example in living and, if need be, suffering or perhaps dying because of faith in Me].
This conforming to Christ did not only mean denying my fleshly desires but also my fleshly thoughts that were contrary to the Word of God, no matter how true they felt or how loud they were or how persistent their nature.
The root of my anxiety turned out to be a perfectionism birthed from self-righteousness. For a girl that had built a secure life by following all the rules and minimizing risk to avoid making mistakes, I was now being asked to exchange performance for belief and to trust God over earning my keep.
I had to trust that when I confessed my sin, God would forgive me because that’s what it says in His Word (1 John 1:9). I had to trust that faith was really the thing that pleased God even though I felt naked without all my good works to prove my worthiness as a candidate for his love.
Romans 12:1-2 is one of my favorite verses because it's such a central component of becoming like Christ in this life. “Therefore I urge you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies [dedicating all of yourselves, set apart] as a living sacrifice, holy and well-pleasing to God, which is your rational (logical, intelligent) act of worship. And do not be conformed to this world [any longer with its superficial values and customs], but be transformed and progressively changed [as you mature spiritually] by the renewing of your mind [focusing on godly values and ethical attitudes], so that you may prove [for yourselves] what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect [in His plan and purpose for you].”
Picking up my cross meant renewing my mind. Exchanging the things I valued like performance, avoiding mistakes, overthinking, and minimizing risk to become whatever version of myself God was prodding me to become. And it was painful. Slow. Progressive and not instantaneous deliverance like I had so desperately hoped for. At times, I felt so overwhelmed by how far I felt from who God was shaping me to be. Other times, I felt frustrated by not knowing how to become that version of myself. Carrying my cross meant taking on God’s thoughts about me and my flaws even when the devil tried to convince me that at best I was brainwashing myself- he’ll tell you whatever lie he thinks you will believe.
Taking up our cross means agreeing to God’s game plan- no matter how foreign and nonsensical it may seem or feel. For me, dealing with the root of anxiety came as the daily exercise of myself unto godliness (1 Timothy 4:7) and it did not feel magical or transformational. I was instructed to renew my mind to the Word so I got scriptures about reconciliation, forgiveness, and righteousness by faith and put those on notecards that I stuck all over my house. Speaking the Word over my thoughts and emotions whenever a rogue thought or chest-digging pressure would emerge was another tool revealed to me.
And lastly, I had to hope, which was to believe that a positive change was on the horizon despite a voice in my ear saying anxiety would be my new reality. There were days when this was strictly a faith exercise- nothing felt different. But slowly over time, anxiety, worry, and fear lost their grip.
What Romans 12 and Mark 8 echo is this journey that looks like leaving a place to enter an entirely new way of being starts first with your mind. Set aside what you think- how you see yourself, that relationship, your season, your history, your expectations. Put on your backpack or in this case your cross and walk into the unknown and uncharted. This is the side of the cross that we rarely think about: transformation. Going on a pilgrimage in our souls, where Jesus walks us through the dark and unfamiliar to become established and rooted in love (Eph. 3:17), where He confronts our orphan spirit that believes we could do enough to earn love and consequently mess up so bad we lose love.
What lies on the other side of this uncomfortable surrender is life, boldness, authenticity, and a fearless grit that can truly laugh at the future (Prov. 31:25).
You have followed the Lord and Master in laying down your life this far; what new glory awaits you in this personal resurrection?
Walking Well Podcast Host and Mental Health Professional