When I was about 5-years-old, my mom warned me not to touch the hot, steak plate that she had just taken out of the oven: the shiny, pretty, silver plate that she placed delicately on the wood base. It was so interesting, so fascinating and so worthy of being touched. Who knows why I wanted to touch it, why it was so tempting, why I thought certainly that my mom was wrong and I wouldn’t get hurt from disobeying her?
As you probably already suspect, I didn’t listen. I grabbed onto the hot iron holding our dinner as if it were my most favorite toy ever. I grabbed the plate. And I screamed. Loudly. With lots of tears. I don’t remember much of what happened next, but I do remember thinking that I probably should have listened to my mom and not touched the hot plate.
I was old enough to know not to touch it. I was old enough for my mom to turn her back for a few minutes and trust that I would follow instructions. I was old enough to understand that what I wanted to do was something that I shouldn’t do. But I did it anyway.
I’ve told this story many times as a great illustration for the idea that God knows what’s best and that’s why he gives us opportunities for how to live. It’s simple, short and sweet. It shows a well-meaning child who’s curiosity gets the best of her and a mom who loves her so much that she puts a limitation on her choices based on knowing what’s best her the little girl. But the little girl didn’t listen and did it anyway, and the mom then cared for her hurt child. It’s a good story, and it works.
However, I’m not sure it’s as simple as it sounds. That one little choice that I made in the ’80s probably had more of a residual effect than that which I had previously considered. My hand, which was burned, probably limited what I could do most certainly that evening and probably throughout the next several days. Special attention was needed for the wounds while healing occurred. The toys with which I played, the activities in which I participated with friends and how I engaged with school that week were all altered. My hand was damaged. Sure, it would heal. And there are no permanent scars, but it took time and was something that effected those around me an the way I interacted with them before then. I couldn’t play with the toys that made it fun to get together with friends. I probably couldn’t write and color and do the other things for which preschool or kindergarten required. I couldn’t pick up a ball and throw it to my brother. It hurt. I had to wait for it to heal. All because of a 2-second decision.
My choice also effected my parents. My mom, who was probably already frazzled from trying to cook dinner with two young children, including one who clearly wouldn’t leave her alone in the kitchen, now had to deal with a screaming child. My parents love me very much, but I doubt that they preferred to spend their time nursing a wound, calming my tears and dealing with bandages and ointment. My dad, who was probably walking in the door from work, was looking forward to excitement and giggles, not cries from an injury. Their idea of a normal night was gone and was replaced with a mess of a child.
My brother also probably wasn’t a fan of the choice that I made. I didn’t take the steak plate and burn him, but his evening was disrupted, his dinner delayed and healthy attention from his parents was distracted. He probably was pushed aside by the two adults who loved him the most to care for his sister. It was appropriate, considering the circumstances, but it wasn’t fair to him. It wasn’t fair to him that I decided to hurt myself and change the tone of, well, everything. I also speculate that it left our parents not in the best mood. Perhaps they were short with him, were quick to punish him for something that wasn’t quite fair and maybe even put him to bed early. Parents dealing with one disobeying and screaming child probably don’t have extra energy, giggles and smiles for the other. It wasn’t his fault. And it wasn’t fair.
Then there’s the general mood of things. A nice, family dinner was not gonna happen. No way. No how. Nope. It was over. In one quick reach, I had turned a normal evening into one filled with chaos and tears. Perhaps my parents had fun plans for us after the meal we were to share? What if there was ice cream or a new toy about to be unveiled? What if we were going to go on a bike ride or play a game? What if, well, what if anything would have happened that night besides me grabbing the hot steak after my mom told me, “no.”
I don’t remember my thought process that lead up to the decision to grab the plate. I don’t know if I thought that maybe my mom was right and it would hurt. I don’t know if I thought she had to be wrong because how could a simple plate hurt me? But I imagine that even if I considered in my 5-year-old mind that it might hurt for a moment, it would have ended there with the plate and my hand colliding and no other unintentional results. I would touch the plate. I would get burned. I would hurt. I would cry. I would pay the consequences. At least that’s the way I most often tell the story. It was all about me wanting to do something, me being forbidden and me disobeying. Me. Me. Me.
One might say that I was young and, developmentally speaking, that’s how I perceived the world, so my anticipation, participation and reaction were as expected. OK, I’ll agree with that. But why is it that in my current 30something adult state I am not alone when I make choices against which I have been warned and justify them thinking that it won’t hurt anyone but me, I’ll suffer the consequences and life will go on as normal for everyone else?
Whether we like it or not, what we do effects people. We were created in God’s image – in our image – says the Bible. It’s “our,” meaning plural. Jesus, the Holy Spirit, God. Yet One God. Yup. Just go with it for now. (The blog unpacking that is longer than anyone wants to read.) So if we were created in His image, we were created to be in community. God affirms this right away by creating Eve for Adam. Adam was not going to be OK by himself with the entire world and everything in it at his finger tips. It wasn’t enough. He needed Eve. He needed another person. He needed to be in community.
We were made for relationships. The good, the bad and the ugly of it. We were made to have lives intertwined with others in ways that are a beautiful disaster. We’re sinful people, so it gets messy. But it’s wonderful because it’s the way we were created to be and from what we gain so much joy.
Therefore, as much as we sometimes don’t want to admit it, this means that the bad and the ugly in our own lives get mixed up into the lives of others, as well. Even when we don’t intend it to be that way. When I think of the junk in my life that I don’t exactly advertise, or the sin that seems more between me and God than me and others, I like to think that it’s nice and controlled, as if it can’t escape to infect or bothers those around me. But, unfortunately, that’s not the case.
When we sin, we so often fail to recognize that it’s not about us. It’s not merely about the act that we’re doing and disobeying the God who loves us so much that he has provided better opportunities than the choice that we are making at that exact moment, even when it doesn’t feel that way.
For those of us who fall into the Christian category, that’s a problem. You see, the most important things that God hopes for our lives to be full and abundant are for us to love him and love others. Get it? Got it. Good! Nonetheless, when our choices directly or indirectly result in not loving others, it’s no bueno. We make little choices all the time. At least I do. Justifying them by saying that no one will know or no one will be bothered by my attitude, my judgement, my …well, I’m not sure I want to disclose everything quite this publicly… but you know what I mean. I’d be willing to go out on a limb that I’m not the only one who has assumed that when I choose to sin there’s no “not loving others” involved. It’s between me and God, and we’ll deal with it. Right? Nope.
If we were created to be in community and ooze life all over the place on top of each other with every other thing that we do, why is it that we pretend there’s an exclusion clause when we don’t like it very much or it’s more convenient to justify our choices that we know are probably not good ones?