Taking up a cross was what a convicted troublemaker did when condemned to death by crucifixion. Roman tradition was that you would be required to carry the crossbeam of your own cross to the location where you would be crucified as punishment for failing to abide by Roman law.
Crucify: to put to death by nailing or binding the hands and feet to a cross
Crucify: to treat with gross injustice; persecute; torment
Carrying that crossbeam was a sign and a punishment for failing to live according to the expectations of those in power.
Christian life, I think, does call us to fail to live according to the expectations of various powerful forces in our society today. And that requires a real and felt sacrifice in most instances.
William Barclay wrote about that. "The Christian may have to sacrifice his personal ambitions, the ease and comfort he may have enjoyed, the career that he might have achieved; he may have to lay aside his dreams, to realize that shining things of which he has caught a glimpse are not for him. He will certainly have to sacrifice his will...he must do what Christ likes. In Christianity there is always some cross, for it is the religion of the cross."
I think that this aspect of Christian life is one that we particularly struggle with in North American society today. Think, what if I had substituted "a woman" for "the Christian" in the above quote? Anger? And how many people, men and women, fight to be able to maintain and achieve the world's possible personal, career and comfort dreams and still be wholly converted to Christ? How often do we Christians laud those who do achieve those dreams and dismiss as simply "ordinary" or "complacent" those who do not?
I am beginning to think that the society in which we live, that so desperately does not want to make permanent personal sacrifices for the greater good, has its sentiments deeply embedded in the lives of all of us who aspire to follow Christ. Following Jesus Christ involves carrying the crossbeam that proclaims that we have refused to embrace society's expectations, the expectations of committing to, achieving and living what it qualifies as "the dream".
That's serious. And if you are courageous and humble enough to do so, you will find some who support you and you probably should also expect some important voices in your immediate vicinity today to feel threatened and hand you a crossbeam to carry with you.