Now great multitudes accompanied him; and he turned and said to them, "If any one comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me, cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, `This man began to build, and was not able to finish.' Or what king, going to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and take counsel whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends an embassy and asks terms of peace. So therefore, whoever of you does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.
I believe I started my faith journey without truly counting the cost. Part of me feels this was designed naivete by God, for if I knew what I had to give up, maybe I wouldn't have fallen for Him so hard. But, here, Jesus says we should be prepared for anything. Rather, we should be ready to lose everything for Him.
As I ride the roller coaster of hope and despair in my faith life, I know God is next to me, strapped in the seat with me. Intellectually, I have confidence the Lord is suffering with me, as I face life's trials with my children, my husband, my parents, my siblings, my friends, and random strangers. In my heart, though, I wonder. I doubt. Do I really have to sacrifice so much to be holy? Can't I just be a "good person?"
Jesus says no. He tells us to leave everything behind, and we just heard this message several weeks ago, as well. He comes to bring division. We must say goodbye to our families. We must give up our riches. What must I let go of to deepen my relationship with Christ? What are the things I am gripping tightly in my fists, not allowing the Lord to take and make holy, regardless of the cost?
Do I worry about the results of following God's commands? Am I anxious about sacrificing "too much?" Do I feel there is a wall I must cross before truly embracing a path of holiness? How thick is that wall? How can I find the courage to scale it? Must I have ultimate control over certain people? relationships? personal goals?
Long ago, when my faith journey was just beginning, I knew sacrifice was necessary. I knew I had to lay things at the foot of the cross and release the control I hold so dear. I can't remember whether this idea was from a person or the Holy Spirit, but when I am holding on too tightly, I remember every detail.
Find quiet. Close your eyes. Imagine the altar that is most meaningful to you. Picture every detail. Now, although this all happens in your mind, imagine it as a physical activity. Pull off of your shoulders each of your individual burdens, one at a time, and lay them on that altar. Picture some object or person as you do this: your strong-willed child, your checkbook, your planner, your husband, your file on that church group you lead. Do it gently, deliberately, with care. Leave it there and pause to feel the weight removed before pulling off another. Once all the burdens from your shoulders are on the altar before you, begin to pull out of your mind all of the fears and doubts: your inadequacy, the future, God's love, God's judgment, being alone. Then, pull out of your heart all of the hurt and despair: a family fight, lack of hope, loss of a loved one. Grab each sin from your soul and set it there, not to desecrate the holy altar but to make holy the sin, to find its opposite virtue: pride turns to humility, anger turns to forgiveness, greed turns to charity. One at a time, place each "thing" on that sacrificial altar and let go of it. Give it to the Lord. After your entire sacrifice is done, when you have emptied your entire self, picture yourself walking away and leaving those things there on that altar. When you leave that church in your mind's eye, imagine those things still sitting there. You cannot take them with you. Walking away might be a challenge, a bit painful. Then, open your eyes; praise God for taking those burdens; and be at peace.
Whenever you find yourself holding on to one of those things again, find quiet, close your eyes, and imagine the altar... Now, I will speculate on one final sacrifice. Once you have done this exercise and can truly walk away empty handed, it's time to sacrifice your very self. Go back in and put on that altar each part of who you are - physically, emotionally, spiritually. Show the Lord that you heard His Gospel today, and you ARE counting the cost of faith. Tell Him you do want to be truly holy, no matter what it takes. Demonstrate you are walking the path to holiness, not just a journey of faith. Someday, soon I hope, maybe I can do the same.