DON’T BURN YOUR HAND

            Many years ago, I was a new pastor just beginning my pastoral career.  I was spending time getting to know the church people which for me involved visiting them in their homes.  One afternoon, I dropped in on a family who were fairly involved in the congregation and who were well respected by the rest.  They were good people and I was enjoying getting to know them and working with them.

On the afternoon in question, I was driving by and saw their car in the driveway and decided to dropped in unannounced–this was a totally acceptable and even expected thing in those days.  The husband and son were in the yard, taking a break from some yard work they were doing.  I got out of the car, walked over to them and began chatting about the weather, the work they were doing and other bits and pieces of conversational fluff that we generally use to get things going.

I noticed that the father was a bit uncomfortable but thought it was because he needed to get back to the chores he was doing before I arrived.  However, as I mentally processed the scene, I realized there was a different problem.  I became aware of the smell of tobacco smoke and noticed with my peripheral vision that his right hand was curled into an awkward position–and that there was smoke coming from it.  His break included a cigarette but he didn’t want the minister to know that he was smoking but hadn’t had time to throw it away when I drove into the yard.

Later in my ministry, I could and did joke with him about that day but right then, he felt a need to hide his smoking from me–actually, he wasn’t really hiding it from me.  He was hiding it from the minister either because he was sure that as a minister I didn’t know anything about people smoking or he was embarrassed about being a Christian and a smoker.  My response to the situation right then was to ask if his wife was home so I could see her and give him time to finish or get rid of his cigarette before he burned his hand.

We all have things that we like to hide from someone.  Some of these things are signs of deeper problems–the alcoholic who claims to be in the wagon but who has a hidden stash in the workshop probably is doing something potentially more serious than my friend with his cigarette.  As I have been thinking about it, the key issue isn’t what we are hiding but the fact that we feel we have to hide something.  The desire to hide things is as old as humanity–shortly after Adam and Eve came into being, they felt it necessary to hide themselves from God.

Hiding things from other people is one thing.  Sometimes, we can successfully keep things hidden from most people for a long time.  But often, we really aren’t as deceptive as we think we are.  People who don’t want others to know they smoke, for example, don’t seem to realize that smoking outside in secret doesn’t really hide the obvious cigarette smoke smell that hangs on their clothes and hair.

Even more serious is the problem of thinking that we can hide things from God.  I expect that almost everyone who has faith in God also has a sense that we aren’t what we should be or could be and we know that God knows everything so he already knows what we are trying to hide–Psalm 139 among other Scriptures makes that really clear.  But even knowing that, we still try to pretend that we can hide things from God.

We pretty up our prayers to avoid letting God know what we really think or want; we put on a suit and tie for worship, hoping that a smart exterior will cover the less than great interior; we quote the Bible hoping that will deflect God’s vision from the less than Biblical stuff we are contemplating and even doing.

Of course, we know that none of this works–but we try it anyway.  But for me, there is a real freedom in  remembering that while I might be able to hide some things from some people, I can’t hide anything from God–and his response to his total knowledge of me is to continue to love me and shower me with grace.  That allows total honesty with God, which is much better than a potential burn to my hand.

May the peace of God be with you.

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