“You rolled me over in dog poop!” This was the first thing my cousin exclaimed as I was assessing whether he’d been hurt badly or not. I had been riding my bike and he was on his skateboard. In one of our more brilliant moments, we’d decided that he would hold on to the back of my bike while skateboarding. At first, it was fine, I pumped the pedals, and we were accelerating—it was fun. Then the wheel of the skateboard hit a rock that stopped the board instantly. My cousin went flying and hit the ground hard, hitting his head. I braked forcibly, dropped the bike, and ran to him to see if he was okay. It was then that I committed the atrocity which occasioned his outcry!
He’d hit his head hard and had a good-sized knot to show for it. But it was the indignity of being turned over into canine droppings that he was most concerned about. If he mentioned it to me once that day, he said it dozens. He was taken to the hospital and his head was x-rayed. It turns out he’d suffered a subdural hematoma. But other than being cautioned not to sleep for a while, he was otherwise just fine. We never tried the bicycle-skateboard thing again, though we certainly had other bad ideas over the years.
With all due respect to my cousin, when I ran to him that day, I did not look at the ground or anywhere else. My sole focus was on him because I was concerned about him. In the moment I wasn’t concerned about his hygiene or his dignity, I was concerned about his life. That was my priority. I’ll concede that the doggy-doo was inconvenient, but it was not important. From my cousin’s perspective, though, apparently, the dog pile was the gravest injury.
As a pastor I see people wounded, hurting, broken, and knocked to the ground all the time, but when I talk with them, many of them are focused on something far less important than the most dangerous injury they’ve suffered. We tend to focus on what is most unpleasant to us even though it may not be what is most serious because we are numb from the force of trauma, but we are keenly aware of the indignities we suffer. For instance, when someone mistreats another person enough to cause anger, hurt, and even bitterness, the person focuses on the outrage instead of what is damaging their spirit. The mean, callous, and even abusive way someone affronted them is more like the dog droppings, while the growing inner hostilities are building dangerous pressures that can damage the soul. Dog poop is foul, but it washes off, having head trauma can be potentially life-threatening. Being treated poorly or hatefully is rank, but hatred, bitterness, vengeance, and anger building within can defile the soul in dangerous and sinful ways.
The lesson is to pay more attention to what is going on inside yourself than to what other people are doing on the outside. Our greatest spiritual dangers come from within. Within is where we make our choices, harbor grudges, or decide to forgive, love, or hate, seethe or soothe. And like my cousin, you may need diagnostic help to assess what is going on inside. When someone does something that really hurts you, it is important to go to God in prayer about it because if you let what they did wrong become the reason you sin, then you are a greater danger to yourself than anyone else. What happens to our bodies is temporary, but what happens in our souls has eternal ramifications. The greatest atrocity is when we inflict grievous harm on our souls by sinning in response to someone else’s sin. The greatest benevolence arises when we repay evil with good.
Contact Pastor Lamb at firstname.lastname@example.org.