Sin Sets In
There’s this tree outside our home. It’s an ash tree. Not my favorite tree in the world, but it is large and mature. It provides our home with a lot of shade for the summer and a lot of leaves in the fall. This year the ash beetles (Emerald Ash Borer) got to it. Slowly but surely our tree is dying. Even in this photo you can see the branches in the top right that are no longer producing leaves. These little bugs get underneath the bark and make a home for themselves. Then the wood peckers come and peck away at it to find them for food. The bark starts to come off. The water supply for the leaves dwindles and the tree eventually dies. Our tree hasn’t totally kicked the bucket yet, but it’s close. We knew when we bought this home that our ash trees would eventually be gone because the Ash Borer invasion was all around us. It finally made it to our trees. While our children love to search for little Johnny woodpecker when they hear his patented tap-tap-tap. It’s hard to watch him, knowing it’s actually killing my tree.
Sin seems to operate in a remarkably similar way. There is a sin, a temptation, an action, a longing of some sort that enters our minds and bodies. It is not of us, but it gets under our skin and becomes a part of our experience. More importantly, we let it. At first it seems harmless. Just like that tiny beetle seems harmless, nesting under the bark of that tree. What’s the big deal? It’s so tiny. It could never hurt anything. Then the consequences set in. Mr. Woodpecker is on his way. Sometimes the consequences of sin hurt ourselves, sometimes they hurt others. It starts out small. One piece of bark gone. No big deal. The tree can live with out that. It’s not like it’s the whole tree. Those little bugs are so tiny compared to this whole tree. There’s no way they could affect it. It’s not like they are chain saws. One time that sin hurt. No big deal. One time doesn’t make a pattern. No need to shed that sin or deal with it. It’s so tiny. It’s not like I killed anyone. It’s not like I’m that person.
Then the woodpecker comes again. And again. And again. All summer long he returns to this host tree that was completely fine hosting these little harmless bugs. Larger and larger sections of bark are falling off. Leaves are beginning to fade or never grow at all. Never knowing that it was slowly killing itself by simply letting itself host them. Day after day after day, the tiny sin continues to repeat itself. Never knowing I am slowly cutting myself off from true joy and contentment.
About a month ago, I got a taste of how slowly sin can grow into something that can slowly create a wave of unhappiness and discontent in my life. As much as I love the holiday season for its reasons and sweet bliss, I always have a hard time as it starts. All of a sudden the materialism of our world comes on full force and I’m standing there wondering ‘Do I jump in? Or do I resist?’ I start making lists of everything we want to give to others, and they ask me to make lists of what I want to fill my home with come Dec. 26th. Do I really want my kid to have that talking toy with the obnoxious point ends that I know will end up under my foot in the middle of the night as I walk to the bathroom in the dark? Do I really want my husband to have that new tool that will probably mean another hole in one of my walls that doesn’t close up for another year? Do I really want another piece of generic wall art to hang on my wall or that additional kitchen gadget that promises to make my life so much easier all the while taking up space in my cupboard for years to come? You know what, I do, and so do my kids, and so does my husband. We all want what we think will bring enjoyment and ease to our lives. (Enter tiny beetle). As I start making lists, they get longer, and longer. All things useful of course. I’ve never been one for frivolous spending. (I can feel God’s eyes rolling in disgust as I play this back in my mind and wonder how he felt watching this unfold.) Then our family went on a small weekend vacation where we stayed in a hotel. The odds would have it that my children love to watch HGTV at hotels as much as my husband does. We don’t have anything other than the major networks for our home television, so getting to watch cable shows is a real treat. To that end, we end up watching house flips and old homes become new again over and over until we all fall asleep dreaming of the home we don’t have…well at least me. (Enter Mr. Woodpecker). Did you know there is not a single room in our home that is completely finished and functioning for the way we use it on a day to day basis? Not a single one. We’ve lived here 5 years, done a lot of work, and nothing is finished. (tap-tap-tap). That husband of mine starts projects all the time and never finishes them so I have an ever dwindling amount of storage space and a never increasing amount of finished product. (crash goes the bark). Those two little rugrats that invade my home every day after school are the ones that constantly take up my time so I cant get anything done around here. If I have to read one more time how Biscuit makes a friend with a dog and stick while looking at that giant half unpainted ceiling with a streak down the middle I’m going to lose it. (Where did all the water go?) Suddenly, or not so suddenly that one small want has turned me against the people I love. It has caused me to find the work I used to love turn into less than what I wanted and not enough.
Then one night, I was standing at my stove making dinner and grumbling to myself. It had been a particularly annoying week. The first day my husband hit a deer with his car, so I had to spend my days taking it to the required appointments and spend my time on the phone with insurance. The next day our DVD players went out. One even ate a CD from the library. Awesome. The next day our water bill comes and it is exorbitantly high compared to all previous quarters of our life here. Come to discover that leaky toilet of ours is actually costing us more than we thought it was. Super. As I’m whining to God saying ‘how can we pay to fix these things with the holidays right around the corner?’ my fridge starts whining. Whaaaaaawwww. I think it just wanted in on the whining action coming from me. It was not a small whine either. If it had fallen over in exhaustion I would not have been surprised. As I’m staring at my fridge wondering if I should be calling our neighbor, to hold the groceries I just bought, in her fridge for a while; God comes in. I do believe God is the only one that could ever talk to me through a whining fridge. ‘Martha, Martha, You are worried about many things.’ (Luke 10:41). ‘Look at the birds of the air, they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? (Matthew 6:26) ‘You have let yourself get away from what really matters. I gave you this home, this family, and this life to love and enjoy. What happened? Why has an upcoming celebration of my greatest gift to you turned you against me, and against the ones you love?’
At this point I was just a puddle. A puddle of exhaustion from wanting things, despising things that others had that I didn’t, annoyance towards my greatest loves, and the final release of it all. When God says he will give us his peace, he means real peace. Not peace because we finally have what we want, but peace in the knowledge that we don’t need it, and never will. He released my heart from the wanting. He released my mind from what I had allowed to enter in. He restored my broken bark, damaged water source with life giving water. Not because everything was fixed, but because everything I saw was never really a problem in the first place. I’m not a big decorator in my home, but a few years ago I did purchase one fall decoration. It reads “Gratitude turns what you have, into enough.” I dug it out and stuck it on top of our mantle. Determined to allow Christ to wash over me and turn my selfishness into gratitude again. It wasn’t instantaneous. We are still in the holiday season after all. I still spend my time preparing for the holidays, but the tides of my heart were beginning to turn. Each morning as I sit with God I allow him to remind me what is important right now and create the desire in my heart for those things again. Enjoying the worship at his feet, because that is what will lead me to true peace and gratitude in my heart.Celebrating and supporting my husband in our marriage. Engaging with and loving my children as they learn and grow in every single way. Teaching them about how amazing this season really is for what we are celebrating. His peace, for his glory.
Sin starts out small. It seems like no big deal. It doesn’t even seem wrong. What’s wrong with wanting a finished home? Nothing. Until it affected my entire outlook on my life, did I realize where it started. That first wanting that I didn’t understand the root of where it came from. I didn’t really understand that at first it was a little tiny beetle coming in to disrupt my bliss. This season can be difficult for all of us as we look at things to symbolize what we are really celebrating. The lines get blurry. The intentions get cloudy. However, if we allow Christ to love us with his grace and hold the gospel as our truth and nothing else, he will grace us with his peace to grow gratitude in our hearts. Little beetles will always wiggle their way in, but he will always help us restore our hearts to be his alone.
Consider the Word
This is one of those stories in the bible that when I read it I’m left asking ‘ummmm, this is weird and nothing like my life. How is this even in the Bible?’ But as I thought about it more and read the commentary in my study bible, I realized the root of my own sin was remarkably similar to the root of the hearts in Lot’s daughters. ‘We are most likely to sin when we are desperate for what we feel we must have.’
What makes you feel desperate? My most recent was material in nature, but it isn’t always material things that cause desperation in our lives. For Lot’s daughters it was marriage. A very real desire in many single hearts. For others it can be financial freedom, education, stable home, cultural acceptance, family acceptance. What leaves you desperate for something or someone? Can you let God fill that spot with his peace instead?
Is there anything greater than a God that fills our hearts for us? On this day, let our God fill your heart with gratitude for each and every thing in your life. Even the things that don’t feel like blessings. Here he lays out his promises to bless even those circumstances too.
This is a long one, but so full of truth. Our enemies may not be as violent and outwardly as David’s, but as I’ve learned, even the smallest enemy can create great damage to the peace in our lives. This Psalm is full of laments and expressions of trust. Ask God to show you through his word what you need to hear the most. Let him be your God.