I should have learned my lesson back in middle school. When we ran hurdles in phys ed class on the school’s cinder track, I caught my toe on a hurdle and crashed to the ground.
In addition to wounding my pride, this event resulted in a wide abrasion on my right knee. But it didn’t really seem like a big deal at the time, so I took a shower and resumed my activities for the day.
The next day, my knee was still painful and red. And within two or three days, there was a thick layer of puss about four inches wide. Because I hadn’t taken sufficient time to disinfect my wound, it had become seriously infected.
When home remedies failed, my mother took me to the doctor. After cleaning out my wound with some nasty stuff that stung like crazy, he sent me home with antibiotics to clear up the infection.
“You can’t mess around with things like this,” the doctor warned me. “Infections that aren’t dealt with can spread throughout your body, sometimes even necessitating amputation.”
Yikes. That sounded pretty scary.
Thankfully, the infection in my knee soon went away. But today God is reminding me of this story to warn me about infections of another kind. Instead of causing puss on my skin, these other infections can cause callouses on my heart.
Let’s be honest. Everyone who lives on planet earth will suffer emotional wounds of one kind or another. We inevitably get wounded by experiences such as dysfunctional parents, divorce, job loss, bankruptcy, health challenges, fickle friends, racism, sexism, ageism, PTSD, crime – and the list goes on.
I have good news and bad news on this. The good news is that our Heavenly Father stands ready to disinfect and heal every wound. The bad news is that if we don’t take prompt action to clean out an emotional wound, it will inevitably get infected. While it may be painful to clean out a fresh wound with something like hydrogen peroxide or merthiolate, the outcome is always better if we take the wound seriously.
The best way to clean out an emotional wound is to quickly forgive the person who caused it. Time is of the essence, because unforgiveness will soon give way to bitterness unless our hearts are cleansed.
Harboring bitterness is a terrible thing – both for ourselves and for anyone who has the misfortune to be around us. The writer of Hebrews warned about this:
Work at living in peace with everyone, and work at living a holy life, for those who are not holy will not see the Lord. Look after each other so that none of you fails to receive the grace of God. Watch out that no poisonous root of bitterness grows up to trouble you, corrupting many (Hebrews 12:14-15 NLT).
Bitterness becomes a poisonous root that always produces toxic fruit. This infection of the heart leads to “anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior” (Ephesians 4:31-32 NLT).
This infection can’t grow when we live in an atmosphere of grace and forgiveness. It’s no accident that Jesus included this in His model prayer: “Forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us” (Matthew 6:12 NLT). If this was our sincere daily prayer, there would be no opportunity for infection and bitterness to set in.
But recently I’ve found myself struggling with grief and anger as I’ve seen our nation torn by racism, division, and violence. Perhaps old wounds and fears are being triggered in my heart from past events I no longer even remember.
Let me be clear: It’s not a sin to be wounded. From time to time, we all become victims of life’s many perils. However, sin comes into the picture when we refuse to receive the disinfecting power of God’s love and the enablement of His Spirit to love even those who have wronged us. Lord, search our hearts and deal with our blind spots (Psalm 139:23-24).
I wish I had learned this lesson better in middle school. Yet I’m grateful for the refresher course God is giving me today. Please be patient, because I’m sure He’s not done teaching me yet.