You know how sometimes there is something so irritating that you simply can’t focus past it? Well, my personal universe definitely has a center this week. I have a bad case of poison ivy all over my face. (I’ll spare you the pictures!)
Unfortunately, when I was a little kid, I got an extremely high concentration exposure to it late one fall when my cousin and I decided to make ‘natural’ bracelets and headbands from dormant vines we found growing on trees in the woods. I was sick, sick, sick! Ever since then, my reaction to the cursed stuff has been what you might classify as just this side of extreme.
Knowing my vulnerability, my mom made it a priority to teach me to identify and avoid the those clusters of shiny leaves that continue to thrive all around our old house in North Carolina. I can still hear her say, “Leaves of three; Leave it be!” as I raced out the door on some grand adventure.
Most of the time I would remember, but occasionally the elaborate games I’d play with my friends would distract me and in a few hours the tell-tale redness would reveal my inattentiveness. But as a result of the many cases of swollen and itchy rashes of my youth, I’ve discovered that I can avoid a great deal of pain and suffering by just paying closer attention the plants in my vicinity … or at least, that’s all I thought there was to it until this weekend.
My oldest son Ryan likes to do all kinds of woodworking projects and is always on the lookout for interesting types of wood to use (especially when they are FREE!). So when my uncle cut down a large pecan tree, Ryan jumped at the offer to stock up on some really nice looking pieces to turn into bowls on the lathe.
While he was loading up the logs, I casually chatted with my uncle while relaxing on the now horizontal trunk of the huge felled tree. There were no ‘leaflets 3′ anywhere around, so my ‘ivy’ alert didn’t kick in.
But in hindsight, I’ve been by that tree many times and remembered too late that every summer the trunk was always covered in ivy vines. Even though they’d been stripped away and were no where to be seen, apparently, there was enough ivy oil residue still coating the bark of the trunk to travel from my hands, to my face, resulting in my swollen eyes and blotchy, blistered skin.
As I sat I the waiting room of the doctor’s office, it occurred to me that sin is a lot like this most recent experience with poison ivy. With just a little vigilance, it’s pretty easy to see the obvious dangers all around us. Lies, anger, coarse speech, drunkenness, and gross immorality flourish easily in the soil of our increasingly rebellious society, but with the help of the Holy Spirit, you can learn to spot, step over these situations, and hopefully avoid the marks they leave on your life.
But there are other… sometimes invisible hazards… lying all around too. Subtle attitudes like pride, self-sufficiency, envy and materialism are not always easy to identify, but can blister you without warning just as easily.
So how do you keep away from something you can’t see? Maybe the answer is found in Romans 13:14 where the Apostle Paul warns us to “make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.” In simple terms, that means… don’t make it easy for your sinful desires to win. Ask yourself a few key questions like: WHEN am I most easily tempted? With WHOM do I make poor decisions? And WHERE do I stray into questionable territory? Even if some activities don’t seem suspect at the time, learn to spot the trace evidence of potential dangers and avoid them!
Of course for me, the best cure for my poison ivy would have been to stay away from that tree all together and wait in the car. Simple preventative measures can often help you sidestep a whole lot of suffering. So before you do something you may regret for a lot longer than it will take to recover from a bad rash, remember what my mom would say to me and just learn to “Leave it be.”
Do not enter the path of the wicked
And do not proceed in the way of evil men.
Avoid it, do not pass by it…
Watch the path of your feet
And all your ways will be established.
Proverbs 4:14-15, 26