At one point in the movie Jerry Maguire, Tom Cruise’s exasperated sports agent loses patience with his one, terribly demanding client, football player Rod Tidwell. The world revolves around Rod. Jerry is merely a servile satellite expected to respond to Rod’s shifting whims. One day in the locker room Jerry can’t take it anymore. He explodes: “You don’t know what it is to be me out here for you. It is an up-at-dawn, pride-swallowing siege that I will never fully tell you about!” Rod can only look on in shock as his agent starts kicking tiled walls and extending his voice to a pitch previously unheard.
I’ve always liked that phrase. “An up-at-dawn, pride-swallowing siege.”
I can imagine parents daydreaming of similar moments of catharsis, directed at difficult children. Beleaguered high school teachers too. And after seven years as a pastor, I have no trouble imagining these words on the lips of some of my colleagues.
Truth is, I have felt this way before. As a pastor, yes, but perhaps most of all as a parent. There are days when I feel like all I am doing is reacting to the moment. Having a staring contest with a six year-old and a four year-old. And failing miserably. When I react poorly, selfishly, out of frustration, I feel guilty. And when I don’t? “It is an up-at-dawn, pride-swallowing siege…”
It’s not much fun. I’m only thankful there are other days too.
I’m pretty certain I’m not alone. Whether as parents or in friendships, in a classroom or in working in a children’s ministry, sometimes life feels like something does a lot of taking.
“It is an up-at-dawn, pride-swallowing siege that I will never fully tell you about.” You tell him, Jerry.
But though it sounds like a cry of dereliction, a hopeless half-rant or a pointless throat-clearing exercise, we might hear it another way. Translated into the first century idiom of Jesus, the phrase might sound something like this: “Take up your cross and follow me.”
Christian ministry, the whole Christian life in fact, is a call to take up the cross in Jesus’ name. It is ultimately the most rewarding path, but in the moment it is also routinely “an up-at-dawn, pride-swallowing siege” as we give ourselves to and for the world in Jesus’ name, just as he gave himself to and for us, and as his followers have given themselves to and for the world ever since Jesus.
What’s really happening when we suffer for the sake of another, whether a friend, a fellow Christian, a spouse, or those children we love so much but who demand so much of us? In the end, we can’t know what the “results” will be of our long-suffering love, of that decidedly unromantic self-giving to which we are often called. But we can know that we are giving of ourselves in the name of Jesus, that we are taking up our cross. In that way, we are sharing in the life of Christ and displaying the life of Christ in what we are doing. Whether it feels like it is beside the point.
When I read the apostle Paul’s heart-rending, pained letter of 2 Corinthians, I hear the voice of someone who has found himself experiencing “an up-at-dawn, pride-swallowing siege” in his relationship with the Christians of Corinth. “I wrote you out of much distress and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to cause you pain, but to let you know the abundant love that I have for you.” (2:4) “…our bodies had no rest, but we were afflicted in every way—disputes without and fears within…” (7:5)
And on it goes. But for Paul, this was “the ministry of reconciliation.” He was living the call of Jesus Christ in his relationships with others. At times it was painful beyond imagining. But ultimately it was the work of God in Jesus Christ. We too may be called endure the “pride-swallowing siege” we’re faced with today. And though we may not see what God is doing in it, we can be certain that as we take up our cross to follow Jesus—in our workplace, in our churches, in our homes—we are only working alongside the God who showed his heart to us most fully when he hung on a cross for us.