Gum & grace

What is the most despicable thing I’ve ever done?  Sometimes I ask myself that question.  My answer involves an unprovoked assault with gum as my weapon.  Remembering this story reminds me of my human nature, my selfish heart, and the jealousy that can creep in and blacken our hearts so quickly.

It was summer, and I was around 8 years old.  I should have been happy about the day of swimming at my aunt’s house that lay ahead.  Instead I was to preoccupied with the spot I’d been placed.

The front seat was such a coveted position when you are 8.  There she was, my older cousin, with her grown-up way of talking and her long blond curly hair falling past her shoulders.  From my position in the back seat, that’s what I saw.  She was chatting with my mom, who was driving us through the bank drive-thru, talking like peers, her hair bobbing with the movement of her mouth.

There I was in the back seat, eternally 2 years younger than my cousin.  Always behind.

I don’t remember thinking about it.  If I had, I wouldn’t have done it.

I took the wad of gum from my mouth and shoved it into that thick blond hair just like that.

Immediately regret filled my body from the tip of my pony tailed head down to the flip-flop wearing toes.

I had no excuse for what I’d done.  But it was clear then, just as it is clear now, I did it out of jealousy.  Jealousy for that long curly blond hair, her grown up actions, and her possession of the front seat.  It was all too much for me.  She had things that I wanted, and making her suffer seemed like a good idea.

There was definitely some suffering that day, and I didn’t enjoy any of it.  Phases of home remedies were tried, peanut butter, ice, combs, soap, and water all with peppers of “ouch” and “owww” and glares from my cousin.

As adults, we can hide how dark our selfish desires are.  We can control our actions out of a different kind of selfish motive, the motive to look like a good person.

I wouldn’t stick gum in anyone’s hair now because I would look insane.

The truth is that I’ve still got those dark thoughts, covetous feelings, and a heart that isn’t always pure.

This reminder of my 8 year old act of pure terror onto my cousin’s head of hair reminds me of my nature to sin.  Remembering my nature helps me to give grace when others show their sin nature.

I see others commit a certain sin, and I think, “Well!  I would never!”

I stop myself.  I remind myself that I don’t get to rank sins into a list from kinda bad to horrendous.  I remind myself that God is the One offended and the One who has made the plan to deal with sin.

I get off my high horse and think about the state of my own heart.

I am a pretty good person, but it isn’t because of any motive or action on my part.  I’m made good by the source of goodness.  The minute I try to claim that goodness as my own, I’ve got some pride to confess and some humility to beg for.

The book of James put all of these ideas into better format than I ever could.

What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?  You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, ‘He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us’? But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, ‘God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’ Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you. Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?
— James 4:1-12 ESV

Fighting, coveting, judgement, and pride are the mark of love for the world.  The world tells us to fight for the best seat, to climb the ladder, work hard, defend what is yours, and to appear to be “good.”  

God is jealous for our hearts.  He is our Bridegroom, and we deserve the scarlet letter of adultery when we love the way the world works instead of drawing near to God.  We have the promise of cleansing, grace, and humility when we ask for those gifts.  

Oh, how He loves us!  He doesn’t expect us to accomplish “good” on our own.  He yearns to give us the grace we need.  All we have to do is draw near and ask.

James says, “Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom.”  He is saying to remember the gravity of sin and who we are with His mercy.  

I remember who I was.  I was a jerky little kid that will stick gum in your hair if you had something I want.  That’s who I am without God.  It might be a funny story, but in my heart, I mourn for how ugly I am without Him.

So today I remind you to remember, mourn, draw near to God, and ask for grace.

I like to post a song with each blog post.  This cover song seemed appropriate - in an irony sort of way.  Texas musician Ben Kweller has been a favorite of mine so long that he feels like an old friend.  Now that I think about it, I know all of Ben's family members' names & everywhere he's lived.  If anyone would be justified in issuing a restraining order against me - it would be my "friend" BK.  Please don't do it, Ben.  I'm harmless.