The Wild Ride of Christian Discipleship

Wow – strong words from Jesus this Sunday: hate your family, carry your own cross, and give away all your stuff – or else! You “cannot be my disciple.”

Does Jesus really wants us to hate our families and give everything away? Probably not. I think he’s is using forceful words to get our attention. He wants us to really consider whether we want to be disciples or not. He wants us to be intentional in following him.

We can’t accidentally fall into discipleship. We choose it. And before we do, Christ wants us to discern it well. After all, no one builds a tower without planning it out or enters into battle without a strategy, so why would we choose our faith without thinking it through? We have to consider the consequences. It could be a fun and wild ride, but we will definitely have to carry a cross. What form it will take is uncertain, but that we have to carry one is clear. Some might say cross carrying is the not-so-good news about the Good News.

Even with the force behind it, I appreciate Jesus’ call to be intentional about discipleship. In my day-to-day living, I often exist in a kind of religious bubble. Maybe it’s like that for you too. It’s easy for Christians to assume our faith is simply in the air we breathe. However, when we take our faith for granted, we have lost our edge in discipleship. We can be culturally Christian, and that’s fine (no judgement), but that’s not discipleship.

So, I ask myself: Do I want to be a disciple of Christ, especially when it means carrying a cross?

Yes, I really do. And I know I’ve chosen discipleship at some pivotal moments in my life – at confirmation, as I discerned and entered religious life, as I made vows, and every Ash Wednesday too. But it’s not just at these occasions when I can check in with myself about discipleship. I choose to follow Christ daily. Sometimes I do it well, and sometimes I don’t, but I want to be as mindful about it as I can be.

How do we know, though, that the decisions we make along the way will move us toward discipleship? One way of gaining perspective that’s wider than the present moment is to imagine yourself in the future looking back over your life. In his Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius suggests that a helpful way of making a decision is to imagine yourself on your deathbed or in heaven before Christ. How do you feel about the life you lived? Did the decision you made move you toward God? Did it deepen your discipleship?  

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If you like this idea but prefer a less morbid context than your deathbed, look to the presidential address by Sister Sharlet Wagner, CSC at the 2019 Assembly for the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. She uses the image of a roller coaster and invites us to imagine how we feel when we exit a really good ride. She’s talking about religious life (which, trust me, is a wild ride), but her metaphor can extend to all of us who choose to ride the roller coaster of Christian discipleship. With all of the ups and downs and unexpected twists and turns of Gospel living, it’s an apt image. She says, “And when we get off that coaster at the end of our lives and we look back, and we see through eyes of divinest sense the hills and the drops and the loops and the twists we have traveled, I firmly believe in that moment we will be grinning like fools, high-fiving one another, and saying, ‘That ride was awesome!’”

When I look at it that way, my yes to discipleship is easier. Even if I’m afraid before I ride a roller coaster (and probably during too), I’m always excited that I did it when it’s over. It was worth it. That’s true of discipleship too. As I choose a life in Christ day by day, moment by moment, I enjoy the ride. Wild though it may be, it’s worth it.

So, what about you? Do you want to get on the ride? Then, keep your hands and arms inside the vehicle at all times and enjoy the ride. High fives all around.

By Sister Leslie Keener, CDP

Sister Leslie Keener, CDP is the director of God Space, a community-building spirituality ministry in Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky. She’s a Sister of Divine Providence with a Masters in Ministry and a Certificate in Spiritual Direction and Retreats from Creighton University. She directs retreats, meets with people for spiritual direction, and serves as the vocation director for her community. She also serves on the Coordinating Council of Spiritual Directors International. She enjoys music, meaningful conversations, and dancing. Roller coasters genuinely freak her out.