Sara and I visited the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Illinois, last week as part of our RV trip around the heartland. One room in the museum included scores of cartoons published upon his election, scorning and mocking him for his physical attributes and ideals. President Lincoln didn’t pay them much attention, though his wife, Mary, was angered by them.
The next day, Sara asked me if cartoons like that were to be published about me, would they bother me? I thought for a long time. As a younger man, they would have. I guarded my reputation and took it personally when anyone criticized me. I would have found cartoons like that demoralizing.
But now, it has happened so often, especially by people who make up lies about me to marginalize or discredit me, that I’m well-practiced in negotiating angry people and the lies they tell to make themselves feel better or justify their destructive actions. So, I told Sara I suspect more people in the world hate the things I’ve written, especially about the church Jesus is building, than those who love them. The religious crowd can be relentless in defending the status quo, especially when it is built on so many fears that considering any other option is unthinkable.
Is that why Jesus said his way is a narrow road? Follow the crowd, and you’ll end up in a ditch somewhere with a lot of company. Pursue “likes” and clicks to monetize your thoughts, and you’ll end up bartering in half-truths and distorting the Gospel to offer people false security.
I can’t tell you how many people write me to say that the more freedom they have discovered, the less some of their old friends want to hear about it. Sounds strange, doesn’t it? The more love you have to share, the less people are willing to share it. That’s because while his love is the greatest prize we could ever discover, it does upset the applecart of our illusions.
Jesus knew the truth wouldn’t always be popular and that some would consider love a threat. He warned us that those who would persecute you would think they were doing God a favor. Those who embrace his truth and love would often be mocked and demeaned for it.
It’s not easy staying true to his work when others don’t beat a path to your door. That’s why I have treasured every email, phone call, and blog comment that lets me know people have resonated deeply with things I’ve written or recorded. Each one is a powerful encouragement to stay the course Jesus has laid out for me.
It’s also why I write and travel to converse with hungry people. I know for every encouragement they get, they probably get twenty discouraging things said or done to them. The narrow road can get lonely sometimes, but truth and love will always be more valuable than a host of friends hoping you’ll stay stuck in the old ways.
But in the end, we dare not look to the crowd, especially religious ones, to affirm his work in us. We live to an audience of one, and while encouragement from others is significant, it is not essential.
Following him is its own reward, and when you no longer need the validation of others to be true to him and his work in you, you’ll find the narrow road a joyful place to be.