The Splinter

My friends and I found this huge wooden spool when I was in junior high school–almost exactly like the only pictured below. It was at the base of a telephone pole near my house, and clearly had been used to hold some kind of telephone wire. The “wheels” of the spool were about the size of a small car tire, and it was heavy enough that we just rolled it back to my friend’s house. We knew we could do something with it.

Wood Spool (2)

The something ended up being my friend’s idea that we could make a “teeter-totter” out of it, and we quickly fetched a 2x8x8 board from the wood pile behind my friend’s house, and it worked out perfectly. Then we decided one of us could stand on the end of the board on the ground, and the other would jump off something moderately high and catapult the other onto a mattress we’d placed behind the teeter-totter.

If you see where this is going, you’re right. I was the first to stand on the low end of the board, and when my friend jumped off the back of a slide onto the board, my feet slipped off the sides, and it rocketed directly toward my crotch, catapulting only my teenage bean bag onto the mattress and depositing a thick splinter about 6 inches long on the inside of my left leg just above my knee on the way to my junk.  I almost passed out.

When I was able to stop crying and hyperventilating, I realized the sting in my leg was actually something I was going to have to deal with. I carefully extracted the splinter and could not believe how long it was. I dropped it on the ground and we decided we were going to go play Atari instead.

I didn’t think about the splinter again until a couple days later, when my leg started to swell up and turn red. I didn’t know much about infections, but if mine didn’t clear up soon, I realized my problems were going to be larger than a splinter. The next day, the swelling was even bigger, and the wound was oozing a little goop.

I didn’t know whether that was good or bad, but in the interest of finding out, I decide the best thing to do was to treat the thing like a zit, so I gave it a good squeeze. It was pretty gross, but at the end of the grossness was another small piece of wood. I hadn’t pulled the whole thing out after all. Still have the scar to prove it.

I think that’s what we’re like sometimes with our sin. We don’t deal with it right away, and it builds and builds. We get infected. This is probably an issue for lots of people–it really has been for me, historically. I feel like I’m getting away with something if there is no resolution to the issue right away or no…culmination at the least.  I can’t think of a time when I wasn’t wrong about that. No one gets away with anything.

The thing about sin that we know we’re supposed to confess it, or that is the hope. So we do confess, but only partly. We’ll be at a bible study or something like that, and we know we’re dealing with something that has the potential to really affect things, and instead of giving voice to our real struggle, we’ll say things like, “I haven’t been reading my bible enough.” Or maybe, “I need to pray more. I feel like I’ve been neglecting my prayer time.”

These things, of course, are usually true to some extent–maybe a large one. They can be and often are problems.

But sometimes not the real problem. We need to be real if we expect any healing to occur–not that better study habits aren’t helpful to everyone–but I think the kind of repentance God is looking for isn’t from a bad work ethic. It’s from rending our hearts.

We hold onto our sin because we’re ashamed of it, because we think no one would understand, or maybe that no one else is as bad as we are. We wouldn’t be forgiven if we really dropped a truth bomb, especially if it’s something potentially embarrassing. I’ve thought that or worse many times in my life.

I’ve clutched sin to my chest like a baby, clinging tightly to it, afraid that if I somehow opened up I would bleed darkness.

And so I would confess something, anything, other than what was really sticking in my heart—binding me—and keeping me from really growing, and healing, and getting closer to Jesus.

Take a look at steps 3 through 7 from alcoholics anonymous:

We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
We admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
We were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
We humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.

This is not to say that every sin is an addiction, but I believe the same “rules” apply to everyone regarding sin, even if they are not addicted to something.

Confession, and freedom, involves quite a bit of navel-gazing, and is quite a bit like being in recovery. And the truth is, regarding sin we are all in recovery.

We know our struggles, and the devil does, too.

We are beset on all sides by our weaknesses.

We are tempted continually.

There is always more of the splinter stuck in our legs, and it usually hurts quite a bit to get it out. It can be messy. Full disclosure usually is.

We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

Hey, I know. Nobody likes to surrender. We value our will and ability to decide what is best for our lives very highly. We know best, and don’t like being told what to do. Just last week, a guy at my work was arrested for possession of child-pornography. No doubt he knew what he was doing was wrong–at least at some level–but it didn’t stop him. He may have confessed something to someone at some point, but he clearly had not gotten all of the splinter out. And I imagine he will be paying the penalty due for years to come.

I suppose it’s only human nature to keep something like that under the cover of as much darkness as we can. Hiding our sin from the world is something we all try to do.

The only problem with that is faith in Jesus tells us to do the opposite. We must drag it out of the cellar and into the light. We must surrender all, and as Carrie Underwood said, let Jesus take the wheel.

It isn’t easy, but if we can do it, everything changes. Maybe not all at once, and maybe it will take a while, but even the smallest candle makes a light in a dark place.

We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

Looking—really looking—at ourselves and the things we’ve done can be horrifying. Because really, everyone wants to be a good person, don’t they? No doubt if we are mostly kind to kids and dogs and older people we feel like we’re all set. And the moment you realize there were times when you weren’t—when you were the opposite of good—can really be a shot to the heart with a rusty arrow.

We have to get past the realization of what we’ve done, and accept the forgiveness that only Jesus can offer.

That is way harder than it probably should be. I think that is because we really all know that we don’t deserve to be forgiven. Because we would not forgive others for something like we’ve done. And after all, we  sort of helped hammer the nails.

But that is part of the beauty of forgiveness.

We admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

The only saying really is true: confession is good for the soul. And it isn’t the “giving voice to our sin” part of it. Saying it does make it real, though. It means we realize what we’ve done. Telling it to God (even though he already knows) is acknowledgment to him and before him that we realize the truth of things. And confessing to another human being helps us to realize we aren’t alone. That, I think, is one of the most important parts of recovery, or freeing ourselves from our chains, whatever they’re made of.

We were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

Sometimes that takes hitting the bottom, hard. Or realizing our legs or our hearts are horribly infected. We need to want the splinter out.

We need to ask God to take it out, no matter how much it hurts, because when we do it ourselves we usually aren’t going to get everything.

We humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings. Sometimes that’s the spiritual equivalent of ripping off a Band-Aid. Sometimes–heck, always–we need a little help.

This, I think, is what it is really all about. We cannot, no matter what we think, do this on our own. Will power can only go so far. White-knuckling sin doesn’t work forever.

It can’t always remove a bottle from your hand.

It can’t always stop you from clicking a mouse on something you don’t need to see.

It can’t forgive your sin.

Only Jesus can do that.

Brennan Manning said something once to the effect that “faith is the courage to accept acceptance.”

That’s true.

The only thing harder (for me, at least) than admitting sin, is accepting forgiveness. I remember wondering how in the blue heck Jesus could forgive me?

I have done a great many mean and stupid things in my life, and there are many people I have hurt. Realizing the truth of my forgiveness and the depth of his love for me literally brought me to my knees.

Why, God? Why do you forgive me?

The answer is what makes it all possible.

Because I love you. I think having kids has helped me understand that a little more. There can’t–or shouldn’t be–a point where we stop forgiving. To help facilitate that, we have to keep things “on the real” at least as much as we can. With that in mind, I think one of the most important things we do after coming to faith is finding a place we can be real, and people we can be real with.

People we can do life with.

Maybe that’s why so many churches stopped saying “home group,” or “small group,” and started saying “life group.”

Take a look at your church the next time you’re sitting in a pew or a chair and enjoying the service. There is probably a group with people in it that have shared your struggle or are willing to. Someone is waiting to hear your story, and someone else is waiting to tell theirs.

There are people you can talk with, and laugh with, and cry with, and most importantly pray with. People that can come alongside you, and help you, along with Jesus, remove the splinter. Because if you don’t, it will kill you eventually.