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The Brambles and the Mud
April 16, 2012
Many of the best days of my childhood were spent exploring, wandering through small forests that have long since been felled in the name of suburban expansion, wading down long, shallow creeks, following abandoned railroad lines, discovering old and derelict buildings, wondering who may have walked that way before, what may have happened, what might have been. Those days remain fixed in my mind as golden memories, the memories of a boy discovering his world.
One lazy summer afternoon I came across a clay pit. Down along the bank of a meandering creek now long-since dammed, where the water seeped from the ground, pure, gray clay shimmered as it caught the sunlight. It was perfect clay, ideal for molding, playing, forming, throwing. It lay in great streaks in and along the ground, long lines of it mixed with dirt and mud and leaves and tree roots and bits of debris that had been carried downstream. I scooped up what lay on the surface and then began to dig to uncover what was out of sight.
I found that the clay extended in long veins that streaked through the ground. As I dug, pulling out handfuls of clay and adding them to a growing pile, I would follow a vein that was wide at first, yielding great handfuls. As I pressed on, the vein would narrow and widen again and sometimes split into two or three more veins. Finally it would peter out so that only bare flecks of gray remained visible against the dark earth. As I reached the point that only mud-mixed speckles remained, I would retrace my route, begin again at the source, and chase the next vein until it too was nearly exhausted.
It was marvelous entertainment for an afternoon, though by the time I had finished collecting all I could, the day was spent, the sun had moved low and west, and my mind had moved on to other things. What strikes me as remarkable as I look back is that I had seen that creek so many times and had never known that the clay was there. But of course it was, the bits that were visible hinting at its presence on the surface, suggesting that so much more lay buried just beneath.
Many of the most difficult days of my adulthood have been spent discovering great, wide veins of sin in my heart. Just recently I encountered one of those veins. Maybe it’s better to say that the Lord revealed it to me; I don’t really know how these things work, but somehow and for some reason I saw flecks of it on the surface and followed those flecks to a wider vein that led deep inside. I began to grab handfuls of sin from inside my heart, tracing it and finding that it is long and broad, that it branches into other areas, that it intersects other veins, that it goes deep. Even now I know that I haven’t yet gotten to the end of it.
I was sickened by it, I am sickened by it, hating that it exists at all and hating that I now have to do something about it. It is discouraging to know that such a streak has been polluting my heart for all this time. How could I have been oblivious to its presence? How could it have been so wide at the source and how could it have extended so deep even while I was unaware of it?
In my honest moments I know that I should have seen it long ago. It was occasionally visible, even if it did largely hide beneath the brambles and mud of life. Little sightings here, little glimpses there. With the clarity that comes from hindsight and humiliation I can see hints of it, and certainly enough that it should not have come as much of a surprise. But it did. It did.
I like to say things to myself like “I’m the greatest sinner I know,” but I know now that I hate to see that I’m the greatest sinner I know, to prove it to myself, to admit it not in the abstract but with evidence piled up in my heart and mind and all around me. Yet there it is, irrefutable evidence.
Now don’t get me wrong—I am genuinely grateful that I’m now aware of this sin. I’d rather have it exposed than buried inside. I’d rather have it exposed quietly to my own sight than have it exposed loudly and publicly to all the world. I hate sin—I hate this sin—and am eager to do battle with it, to put it to death. I am counting on the Lord to help me here, to extend grace and mercy and forgiveness. And maybe I’ll soon even dare to pray that he will be gracious enough to give me a glimpse of yet another vein of sin, and another after that.