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As I’m finishing 2017 and entering 2018, I’m reading Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion by Father Gregory Boyle. Father Boyle is a Jesuit priest and founder of Homeboy Industries, a ministry to ex-gang members in East L.A. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it for 2018.
As I reflect on 2017 and look ahead to 2018, I know what the world needs is not more pity with no action from God’s people. Instead, it aches for deep compassion and courage fueled by God’s expansive love that leads to sacrificial love. But, compassionate love is not easy and I have been praying and wondering if I would have the courage to choose the road that is less traveled.
Father Boyle’s words have been giving me the reassurance and the challenge that my heart has been needing. Two things stood out to me as I have been reading.
First, his view of God is much grander than mine.
Secondly, the depth of his understanding of who God is has fueled his fierce yet gentle compassion towards those who are marginalized. This book has been a delightful surprise to my soul as I end and begin a new year.
In particular, Father Boyle’s articulation of the passage from Matthew 7:13-14 has impacted me greatly the last few days.
“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”
The initial response to reading these two verses might be that of discouragement or heaviness. We focus on the way is hard and those who find it are few. We interpret that the Christian life is hard and maybe lonely. Who wants to choose the hard way? The wide gate sounds initially more attractive. It is easy, there are many who enter through it. But it ultimately leads to destruction. Who wants to take a road that ultimately leads to destruction, even if easy?
Neither gates feel attractive upon our initial reading.
I can’t help but feel the weight of the choice that Jesus lays before us. If anything, it can leave us feeling overwhelmed.
But, Father Boyle brings a depth of insight and clarity to this passage that it is worth reflecting on. He writes,
Jesus in Matthew’s gospel says, “How narrow is the gate that leads to life.’ Mistakenly, I think, we’ve come to believe that this is about restriction. The way is narrow. But it really wants us to see is that narrowness is the way. St. Hedwig writes, ‘All is narrow for me, I feel vast.’ It’s about funneling ourselves into a central place. Our choice is not to focus on the narrow, but to narrow our focus. The gate that leads to life is not about restriction at all. It is an entry into the expansive. There is a vastness knowing you’re a son/daughter worth having. We see our plentitude in God’s own expansive view of us, and we marinate in this.”
How true it is that sometimes we get stuck in thinking that choosing the narrow path of Jesus is all about restriction. But, if we take a close look at Jesus, what He taught, and how he lived, he was the least restricted man. The religious leaders hated him because his narrow ways brought people out of the restrictions and traditions that they held so dearly. His narrow focus on only doing what the Father said allowed him to freely enter the expansiveness of his Father’s love for him and for the world. His life, which at the end was restricted to the cross, was momentary as the power of God brought forth new life, new power, and ultimate defeat to the restriction of death.
The narrow path of Jesus did not bring more restriction. It burst forth power, life, and victory.
Reading Father Boyle’s reflection on Matthew 7:13-14 brought back to me my memories of the tunnel that leads to the entrance of Yosemite National Park. While driving in that narrow two-lane tunnel, you feel restriction. But, it is the quickest way to get to Yosemite for us. The narrow dark tunnel is the way.
The truth is that most first-timers in Yosemite have no idea what awaits them on the other side. The tunnel leads us to an entrance into God’s creation that is so vast and beautiful that the only words that one can utter are, “Wow….wow… oh wow…”
The view is so absolutely breathtaking that it leaves you completely speechless. The majestic beauty of Yosemite that you enter at the end of that narrow tunnel is absolutely overwhelming to behold.
I love how Father Boyle writes that it is not about focusing on the narrow, but it is about narrowing our focus. What that tunnel does for every visitor that enters Yosemite is to narrow their focus to nothing but what is ahead.
What awaits is an entry into the expansive beauty to which no words can do justice.
The gate that leads to life is not about restriction at all. It is an entry into the expansive.
The narrow path is the way. It narrows our focus so that we can encounter the expansive love of God and the vastness of God’s greatness that brings life to us sinners who come to Him.
When we focus on the narrow as a restriction, we feel defeated. We see it as a kill-joy and not a path to an abundant life that Jesus promises. But, when we narrow our focus, when we truly focus on Jesus, following his ways, and doing what he says, we are promised life, an entrance to God’s vastness.
No longer do we feel defeated by the restrictions, but we feel energized by the grandeur of who God is and His expansive love for us and the world. We can enter his expansive purpose and plans. Oh, what life, freedom, and joy await those who walk the narrow path!
2018 is just around the corner. Jesus is extending an invitation to us to choose the narrow path — by focusing not on the narrow, but to narrow our focus so that we can experience the vastness of God. He is limitless. His mercies are unending. His joy is overflowing. His life is abundant.
Will you focus not on the narrow, but narrow your focus and enter God’s expansiveness?
Let’s begin 2018 by narrowing our focus and inviting the Holy Spirit to lead us into the expansiveness of God.
How do you need to narrow your focus this year in order to enter God’s expansive and vast love and purpose in your life? Maybe you need to leave something so that you can focus on Jesus more.
Invite the Holy Spirit to speak to you. Then, take some time to journal it or write it down. Lastly, share with a couple of friends, your spouse, and some people from your church community who can remind and encourage you to stay on the narrow path.
Enter the vastness of God in 2018 by choosing the narrow. May 2018 be the best yet!