A small child and a burning stick taught me an important lesson.
By Jenni Goodwin
A small fire blazes in the dirt street. Thin orange flames dance gently, their incandescent tendrils igniting glowing embers in the pile of rubbish. It is a harmless blaze—a ritual, really—set every evening about this time to burn the trash accumulated throughout the day. A thousand fires like this one happen around the city each day.
A toddler, not more than 2, plays quietly in the street, fascinated by the colors and movement of the fire. She dawdles by the flames, gripping a long thin strip of wood in her hand. Mussy wisps of hair cling to her cheeks as she stares intently, thinking hard. Slowly, carefully, the little tyke stretches the long sliver out in front of her until the tip is glowing a warm orange, then pulls back to examine it closely. As she is examining her prize, her mother catches sight from the sales table.
“Josías,” a warning voice calls sharply. “Don’t touch the fire. It will burn you!”
At the voice the small girl’s eyes dart toward her mother, then back to the stick, still glowing with intriguing sparkles. It is obvious; the prohibition had sparked a shift from innocence to intention. She is no longer satisfied with inspection. Now she must touch the forbidden coal.
Defiance … and Guilt
Josías’ fingers twitch. A short battle rages in her mind as she considers the possible consequences, should her mother catch her disobedience. Decision made, one small hand creeps toward the dormant fire. Eyes focused; brows furrowed with guilt. Josías glances once toward her mother, furtively. Then she touches.
Brown eyes widen to show the whites. Mouth drops open. Hand jerks back, recoiling involuntarily from the surprise of pain. It is a whole-body reaction as the burn wreaks its havoc on her tender flesh. Tears welling in her eyes, Josías nurses her injured finger, comforting herself for just a moment. Then she turns her attention to evaluate the cause of her pain: the glowing stick.
The trial is set. The defendant is identified. Passing blithely by the fault of her own blatant disobedience, an inanimate humanly manipulated object, the stick, is judged guilty. With the same response that humanity has used for ages to excuse its own misdeeds, the diminutive child smiles vindictively. Forgetting her burn, she concentrates on meting out ill-designated justice. Securing the slender twig in both her baby hands, Josías smashes the glowing ember into the dirt with all the violent force her toddler’s body can produce … repeating the process until the stick is black and mangled. After a short pause, she carries the stick back to the fire, relights it, and then smashes it into the dust. Again. And again. And again.
That’s How It All Began
I sit, my back leaning against some rickety slats as I wait, watching. I am the sole observer. How blatant her defiance, choosing to do exactly the opposite of what her mother has instructed … to her own detriment! Short-lived innocence intentionally traded for the promised knowledge of experiencing the reality of good and evil. Warning was provided. Understanding was present. Josías used the rational ability of her little mind to choose, and she chose to disobey. It doesn’t make any sense, really. But it doesn’t stop there.
Josías received the consequences of her choice, yet she refused to accept them as such. Blame came automatically, the passing of her self-owned guilt to an innocent third party. Punishing another for one’s own sin. It was a classic paradigm repetition of sin’s birth on this planet.
I rise slowly to my feet, and start toward home, replaying the child’s actions in my mind, amazed at the resemblance of Josías’ encounter with sin to that of Adam and Eve’s first experience in the garden. Both parties were previously completely innocent. Both received instruction from the one who cared for them, with the sole purpose of preventing them pain and suffering. Both made a deliberate choice to disobey those instructions. Both refused to accept their own responsibility in the resulting consequences, instead passing the blame to someone or something else. How far, I marveled, we have fallen as a sinful race, with sinful tendencies now engrained in our beings from birth!
All of Us Tarnished
To see the innocent child soiled, immersed in the bleeding stain of experiencing sin, I am sharply reminded of my own life, grubby and tarnished with a thick crust of accumulated sin. It’s not so fresh and shocking anymore. Sin for me isn’t so new: it’s really routine. More accepted. Even expected. I realize suddenly the trap humanity has fallen into, and the desperate need we have spiritually. Even our birth innocence is tainted. There is nothing good in our humanness. We are in dire need of a spiritual rebirth. I’ve known it all along, but suddenly it makes much more sense.
“But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior” (Titus 3:4-6).* “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Cor. 5:17).
How often, I reflect, do I play “Josías” with God? God sets guidelines to protect and care for me. He knows what will happen when I disobey, and He wants to prevent me from experiencing pain. Warning is provided. Instruction is clear. I know what’s right. I understand. I don’t want to experience pain. It’s really quite simple. So why do I still choose to touch the fire?
Today a small child and a burning stick opened my eyes and taught me a valuable lesson. It’s time to break the mold of burning fingers and bashing sticks. It’s time to ditch the perversion of our supposed birth innocence and be intentionally reborn. Reborn through His merits into His perfection.
*All Scripture references are from the New International Version
Jenni Goodwin, a nurse and paramedic, is coordinator of Touch of Love, a non profit ministry of Ambassadors Medical Outreach and Relief Projects in northeastern Peru.