Two nights ago, I sat among giants.
Five people, each of them, had come face-to-face with a conflict between their consciences and the system of power that held the keys to their salary and advancement. And they each chose to follow their nudging consciences growing deep within them. For three of them, it was a recent experience.
And it cost them—relationships with “friends” and family, reputation, salary, and immediate fulfillment of their ministry aspirations. They were threatened by people they had previously admired, ambushed by those who could easily use deceit as a weapon, and rejected by those who had previously affirmed them.
Their choices led to dark days of pain and agony. Falsely accused and isolated, they second-guessed their consciences and questioned the God who had not intervened on their behalf against those acting in unGodly ways.
But in those long days of darkness, their hearts grew. They began to see the difference between human power and God’s authority. They came to see the full fury of a religious system more obsessed with power than truth and healing, even for their own people.
When they saw through the illusion of power and how far it would take them off course from the passion they held for Jesus and his people, they discovered that grief and disappointment can lead them into a rich vein of God’s wisdom and that enduring the affliction of others would only increase their compassion for the broken and wounded.
Some were still in the throes of that process, but I was touched by each person’s heart and honored to hold their stories and honor their choices. Two were black men who expressed the added pain and exploitation of the racial realities behind the choices of white leaders who had exalted them and then turned on them. One was a woman with little power to resist the manipulations of the men who decided her fate. Their added powerlessness multiplied their pain and negated their attempts to be treated graciously.
And yet, I was overwhelmed by the beauty of their desire to choose authenticity over expedience and truth over comfort.
I heard the exact words reverberating in my mind that Jesus spoke to the disciples one afternoon in Matthew 13, “To you it has been given to know the secrets and mysteries of the kingdom. . . . ” Others would have to content themselves with parables they didn’t understand because they choose the illusions of reputation and power over the pathway that leads to life.
I’ve been honored to meet many such people throughout the last thirty years of my journey. Each time, I’m reminded of Jesus’s words,
Count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even!—for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds.
I know it doesn’t feel like joy, which I suppose is why he said, “Count yourselves blessed.” At the time, it doesn’t feel like a blessing. However, being lied about, insulted, or excluded by those you love is not the end of your journey; it’s the trailhead into a journey for which your heart has truly hungered.
Follow your conscience beyond the wall of illusion, and you will find the rich, fulfilling reward of a life well-lived that will be worth whatever price you had to pay to get there.
And all of heaven applauds.