Columnists > Soul Food

The "S" word

When counting sins, there are no small, garden-variety "S"s; they're all big ones

Issue: "Disorder in the Court," June 8, 1996

Summertime, and the travel is supposed to be easy. My two youngest children and I could hardly wait to begin our trip to see my parents. I was going to reupholster an old couch and the kids were going to run amuck with their country cousins.

In a celebratory mood we stopped for gas on the way out of town. After our purchases we raced for the car, loaded with snacks. We jumped in, slammed the doors, and a frightful panic descended.

Sember had shut the door on Jerem's hand and he sounded like Ozzy Osborne in concert. I opened the door, freed his hand, and accompanied by screams of pain and Sember's sobbing, I shot away from the pumps, headed back home. Momentarily forgetting how to drive, I jumped the curb and careened down the wrong side of the street, bouncing the trailer behind.

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We arrived at our doorstep as Sember gave a thousand apologies. She insisted she positively did not mean to do it even though there might be times when she might want to hurt him and only when he deserved it, but never (cross my heart and hope to die) would she purposely try to break his hand.

Slightly sobered, we administered aspirin and ice and made our second try at leaving town. It was then that my husband noticed the gas cap was missing. I must have forgotten it at the station. Slowly, we drove along searching for the gas cap. And lo, a miracle. We spotted it lying in the street. Breathing a sigh of relief we were off again.

As the miles ticked by, a heavy silence from the back seat penetrated my consciousness. Noticing long faces in the mirror, I asked what was wrong. Things seemed fairly calm at the moment. All was mended. No broken bones. We had enough junk food to feed and water an adult rhino. They solemnly looked at each other and ventured: "We were just wondering when you were going to apologize."

Startled by this, I yelled; "For what?!" What could I possibly have to apologize for? I had done fairly well considering everything.

They looked at each other and whispered, "You tell her." "No. You tell her."

Finally, Sember, the moralist, said in hushed tones, "You said the 'S' word."

"What!" I shouted. "I did not. You just imagined that." This I could not believe. I was cool in a crisis. But I had a sinking feeling-for "out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks" (Matthew 12:34). They chorused from the back seat: "Yes you did. You said it when you found out you lost the gas cap. We heard you. It was clearly the 'S' word." I faltered-there had been a few moments lost to panic. I had probably said it. Now they were patiently waiting for my confession.

I reckoned I wouldn't commit a "big" sin like murder, but I often excuse garden-variety sins-like words spoken in haste or anger. What do I think? That the beatings Christ took for sin didn't include the "small" ones? The truth is my tongue needs a thrashing about once a day. I apologized.

Silently I prayed for chances to change habits and strengthen my resolve to honor God with heart and lips. Two hundred miles later God answered my prayer.

We were passing through a small town when a car screeched to a halt in front of me. I braked hard and the Coke on the dashboard did a swan dive to the seat landing upside down on Sember's new tape player. It immediately stopped playing. I was so dismayed, I let up on the brake, forgetting why I had originally applied it, causing us to hit the car ahead of us. It gave the driver a bit of a jolt, but caused no damage. He got out, inspected his bumper, strolled back to us, confirmed that I was a woman driver, and calmly inquired about our welfare. I was thankful for Minnesota and its many placid Norwegians.

That time i said nothing; i only thought it. It is discouraging to witness how long and painful is the road to maturity. We are not helped by a culture that conditions us for instant results. In mighty contrast, sanctification stands as a process-a life-long journey toward holiness. Thankfully, what's gotten hold of me is nothing less than the power of God that raised Christ from the dead after my sins put him in the grave (Ephesians 1: 19-20).


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