"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."
Matthew 7:13-14 (English Standard Version)
On March 9, 1904, the ninth child was born to a couple in the small town of Shamokin, Pennsylvania. They named her Marcella. She would be the older sister of seven more children added to the family in the years following her birth. For reasons not really clear, Marcella never went to school past the fourth grade. With so many mouths to feed and poverty's shadow casting its gloom over the family, perhaps Marcella's education was foregone in the necessity of her staying home to help her mother.
Due to some traumatizing circumstances in the young girl's life, Marcella decided early on that she would never be married. Several of her sisters chose the same road of spinsterhood. A beautiful soprano voice was Marcella's comfort where few comforts could be found. And somewhere along the way, the faith of her wonderful mother was passed down in all of its fervency to Marcella.
For thirty-one years, the girl turned woman in the the small town of Shamokin. Nothing huge in the way of accomplishments. Having to take on great amounts of responsibility before she should have, Marcella lived a quiet life in an obscure town. But, as so often happens, a huge twist in the form of a letter from her sister, turned Marcella towards her destiny.
Flossie, Marcella's sister, lived in Detroit and ran a small chapel on Gratiot Avenue. Flossie had led a certain widower by the name of Laban Smith to Jesus Christ. After close and careful observation of the young doctor and father of two, Flossie dared to write to invite her sister from Shamokin to use her voice for the Lord in the chapel. As though it were merely an afterthought, sort of a p.s., she wrote,
"Oh, by the way, there is a young doctor here who would be perfect for you."
Marcella didn't miss a beat and wrote back to her sister:
"I would love to come and work with you. But as to that young doctor, if he's so wonderful, why don't you marry him yourself?"
Marcella packed her few possessions and headed for Detroit. A simple introduction of Laban and Marcella led to a two month courtship and Marcella speaking the vow of a lifetime commitment to a man whom God had chosen for her long before that day.
Marcella was a determined woman who did not like to be told what to do. She had found her match and soulmate in Laban Smith. On paper, they never would have been considered compatible. Laban was an oral surgeon with years of college and medical school training behind the Dr. abbreviation in front of his name. He came from comfortable circumstances and a peaceful childhood. Marcella had none of those things. It didn't matter. They became one person in their fervor for Christ and His kingdom.
That shared fervor would require a cost that, had Marcella been able to count before the future happened, she may have said no to. Instead of settling into the luxurious lifestyle that Laban's profession afforded his family, they decided to walk the hard road opened to them through the narrow gate and leave it all behind to live and die among a people who could never repay them. They left their reward to heaven's righteous Judge and never looked back. I have recorded some of the tremendous personal costs that were required of them both for making that decision in my book, Congo Vignettes.
I used to think the narrow gate was the one that led to my salvation from the wrath of God through my acceptance of Jesus Christ's work on the cross. I am convinced that salvation is represented in that gate, but I have come to believe that salvation is just the beginning of the journey. Many, many of us walk wholeheartedly through that gate with incredible joy. We have a marked existence--life before Christ and life after Christ. But, girlfriends, salvation is like walking through the gate and holding on to it. It is just the first step.
The road found on the other side of the gate is incredibly constricting, confusing, and dark. There are huge mountains and steep valleys. There are potholes and stumbles filled with terror. Most bewildering of all, we are somehow convinced the path that Jesus beckons us through the narrow gate shouldn't look like this. It is why many never leave the gate and travel very far down the path. There are intimidating, soul-shaking obstacles all along that narrow road that leads to life, abundant life. Have we ever let go of the gate and heard it slam shut behind us? Are we still standing just inside the gate and are frozen with fear about moving down the trouble-filled path in front of us?
Let me ask us all a question: How is life at a standstill? Is there joy in spite of uncertainty? Do we have the ability to laugh at the days to come? How well do we sleep at night? What we may be dreading the most is what is going to make us really live. My life with Christ is such a total paradox to my selfish, sinful nature. I have to die in order to find life. It's so excruciating that I can become convinced He's not really with me on the narrow road at all.
What would happen if, like my grandmother Marcella, I was able to let go of the gate? What if I could dare to trust the outcome to the One who promises me that He knows the very number of the hairs of my head? What if I could trust my God to not forget me, even when it seems everyone else has? What if in the deaths the narrow gate required, I could let go and start walking? Then I think I would start living for the first time.
Jesus, do I trust You? That is what it all comes down to. I can say whatever I want to, but I will never do what I do not believe. I have lived too long for a life in which I expect all reward with no risk. And what that has gotten me is heartbreaking disappointment. What I have been created for will be found inside the narrow gate, down that twisting, winding, breathtaking path that leads to life. Oh, Jesus, please give me the courage to let go of the gate and start walking into the abundant life You have promised me.