Our. Choices. Define. Us.
Choices. We make them every day, many times rather unwittingly. A choice to do the difficult thing, or the easier one. A choice to do the convenient thing, or rather the inconvenient one.
When I exited the church building that Sunday, I was caught in a driving rainstorm on one of Cambridge’s little side streets in the historic area of town; there were no taxis to be hailed, no respite to be had in dry transport. (Oh, and by the way, during the worship service, a strange alarm had sounded; though I did not find out the reason until later, the alarm was signaling flash flooding all around the area.)
Thankfully, I had my umbrella and raincoat, and the maps on my phone to help me locate Harvard Law School, and the exact building for registration. Nonetheless, because I was on foot and the wind was driving the rain sideways, my umbrella was blown straight up, despite its metal frame, and I was quickly soaked! I kept thinking I must look like the Morton Salt girl unavoidably splashing through puddles, making my way across campus to the unfamiliar building. Hmmm… Maybe I should wait until tomorrow morning, just before the commencement of class to register; maybe I should put off trying to make my way in this crazy amount of rain.
Choices. We make them every day, many times rather unwittingly. A choice to do the difficult thing, or the easier one. A choice to do the convenient thing, or rather the inconvenient one. In every action of life, we are confronted with a choice; and we can never evade the choice, because we can never stand still—at least not very long. If we stop and think about great people in history—it was their noble choices that defined them. It was the courage of a Rosa Parks, the continued selflessness of Mother Teresa, and the current dogged determination of my friend Beth Sanden, (an able-bodied competitive bicycle rider turned paraplegic in a bike accident), to complete a marathon on every continent. Beth Sanden.
Choices. Makes me think of the choice Moses put before the people, ‘See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, and death and adversity … Choose life so that you and your descendants may live’.1 Reminds me of a brief conversation I had today with a classmate there at Harvard who is an attorney in Canada; after he asked me about what I do, and to describe my role as a corporate pastor. All of his non-verbals telegraphed disdain, as he said, “Well, you and I are exactly the opposite then.” I knew where he was going, but I asked anyway, ‘Oh, what do you mean by that?’ “Well, I’m an atheist.” To which I replied, ‘We are not opposite then—we both believe something--maybe passionately, but that something is very different.’ And then I walked away, feeling quite sad for my new friend, and remembered Jeremiah’s charge, prompted by God, ‘Thus says the Lord: See, I am setting before you the way of life and the way of death.’2
It was Jesus who expressed our choices in a different context yet--
“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.3
Anyone can take the broad road, but more is required to enter through the narrow gate. Almost always the narrow gate requires discipline...
Sometimes prudence, discernment or keen insight—especially
when considering a choice for the moment that might have far-reaching ramifications—perhaps for a lifetime.
Sometimes the narrow gate means arduous training or rehabilitation over time,
Sometimes tutelage, great commitment, follow-through or loyalty,
even as the way is unsure, or the end result not guaranteed.
Often the narrow gate requires self-denial or deferment of pleasure
because it is the way the Devoted is to take,
in order to honor God, in order to be obedient.
The easy way may look very inviting at the moment, while the hard way looks daunting. The only way to get our values right is to see not just the beginning but the end of the way, to see things not in the light of time but also in light of eternity.4
One thing is for sure--no one ever reached any eminence, and no one having reached it ever maintained it, without discipline.5
Here at the start of a new year, I pray that you and I will have the courage and desire to choose the narrow gate, and thereby choose life. Let's choose well.
1 – Deuteronomy 30.15,19:
2 – Jeremiah 21.8
3 – Matthew 7.13-14, NIV
4 – William Barclay
5 – Samuel Taylor Coleridge
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