For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life (John 3:16).
From the moment our fifteen year-old son walked into the house after a weekend missions trip to Mexico, he rambled about his experience with an enthusiasm I thought he reserved only for computer programming. His excitement continued through dinner as he painted vivid word-pictures of homes he and other church members built for two impoverished families, the children they met, the food they ate, the bugs they chased. Then, as we left the dinner table, he added, “Oh, by the way, I cut my leg two days ago.” He pulled at his pants leg to give me a look. “What do you think?”
I had been a nurse a long time, but had never seen such a mass of angry, reddish-blue pustules like those covering his shin. It was hard to know where infection stopped and healthy skin began. A thin, yellow fluid seeped from an inch-wide blister and traced down into his sock. I bent closer and caught a faint whiff of foul odor.
“Put on your coat. We’re going to the emergency room.”
Shortly after we arrived, a physician examined Nathan’s leg. He prodded, poked, and murmured an occasional, “that’s interesting” to no one in particular. Then he looked at us and announced the bad news. Nathan needed intravenous antibiotic therapy to prevent the infection from spreading to his bone or his blood. If it spread, he would require hospitalization. Nathan’s “by-the-way” nonchalance suddenly transformed to an “uh-oh” anxiety.
After the IV therapy, we drove home with a two-week supply of antibiotics and other medications to help his leg heal. The physician told me to keep him home from school for a few days.
When Nathan went to bed, I sat at my computer to unwind from the day’s events. As I stared at the blank screen, I thought about the incident beginning with Nathan’s, “Oh, by the way.” I relived my gnawing fear as the doctor probed, prodded, and attended to his infection. Under different circumstances, Nathan’s “Oh, by the way” could have ended in disaster.
It has been many years since that evening, and I still wonder how Nathan could have been so casual about something so serious. Maybe it is because he is so much like me—and the rest of humankind. We often deny reality, hoping, for example, the chest pain is indigestion and not a heart attack, the persistent lump in our throat is phlegm, and not cancer, or that weeping sores will get better by morning.
Yet, in an eerily similar way, how many of us also deny our spiritual wounds with a similar nonchalant: “It’s not that bad”?
When I share my faith in Christ with others, their oft common refrain, “I’m not that bad” makes me wonder if denial is subliminally scripted into our subconscious. What people most often mean by that is, “When I die, God will weigh my good deeds against my bad. I think I’ll do okay.”
Coming from the lips of men and women whose spiritual wounds sometimes defy description, I shake my head in bewilderment. In the face of overwhelming spiritual injuries like life-wrenching substance abuse, sexual addictions and perversions, murderous tempers, lost hopes, shattered families, broken dreams, dark depression, recurring suicidal thoughts, and on and on . . . . why do we persist in choosing to declare we need nothing more than a bandage?
Perhaps because we hear the message “God loves us” so often, the words lose their significance. But it is His love that prompts His warning, “Get to the Emergency Room (Calvary).” And there, when the Great Physician prods, pokes, and tells us, “You need a new heart; you need to be born again”—some still wonder, “What’s the big deal? It’s only a little sin.”
Nathan’s physical injury was a big deal. Skin infections such as his can invade the blood and become systemic infections overnight. Untreated, it could have killed him. And spiritual injuries are also a big deal. Untreated, they will spread through every hidden and not-so-hidden crevice of our lives—and will eventually separate us forever from God.
Nathan did not have a choice the evening he showed me his leg and said, “Oh, by the way.” If he had refused to come to the hospital I would have dragged him there. But you and I have a choice about going to Calvary. God will not drag us to the Cross. We can bring our wounds to the Great Physician or shrug our shoulders and, with “by the way” nonchalance, tell Him, “I’m okay.”
I am here to tell you, “I’m okay" is a very bad choice. That is why Scripture urges us, “Now is the time of God's favor, now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2).
Waiting overnight might be too late.
© RICHARD MAFFEO was born into a Jewish home. Twenty-two years later, he discovered Jesus to be his Messiah. During the net thirty-three years, he and his wife, Nancy, worshipped in evangelical Protestant churches where he learned what it means to lean on Jesus and to listen for His voice. Maffeo also earned his baccalaureate and seminary degrees from Assemblies of God schools. Then, in 2005, after discerning Catholic teaching in the light of the Scriptures, the Holy Spirit led him into the Catholic Church. He continues to mature in his passion for Christ, the Sacraments, prayer, and Scripture. Maffeo is a Fourth Degree Knight, has written three books, authors a blog (www.TheContemplativeCatholicConvert.blogspot.com), and serves Christ in his parish, St. Benedict’s Catholic Church in Duluth, Georgia.