There’s a small mirror I keep on the ledge in the bathroom. I use it to see the back of my head when I’m blow-drying my hair (I’m hearing strains of Carly Simon in the background…). But because of the location of the mirror, it always gets a big dose of hair spray, perfume or styling spray. Then it collects dust. Slowly each day, this stuff collects on the mirror, mingles with the dust, and blurs my view. Eventually, after about a month or so, when I absolutely can’t see anything, I clean it off. And I’m always amazed at how clean it is — how I can see so clearly now — and why did I wait so long to clean it? (And why is my back view so atrocious?)
On the other side of the hall, my daughter has a large fish tank in her bedroom, and my husband is responsible for keeping it clean (because while I like to watch the fish, really they kind of creep me out). He changes out water weekly, but every few months he empties the whole thing out, fish and all, so that he can clean the tank completely. See, it takes a few months, but algae starts forming on the sides of the tank, and all of the sudden one day, we realize we can’t see into the tank so well. Slowly each day, this stuff collects on the tank, mingles with the water and blurs our view. After the cleaning (which always involve vigorous scrubbing with a sponge), we always marvel at how clear and clean the tank is — how we can see Blackby, Jumpy, Dorothy and the Ziti Brothers so clearly now — and why did we wait so long to clean it? It would be so much easier and less time-consuming for us to keep the mirror and fish tank clean daily, or even weekly. Yet we wait until we can no longer see clearly — we wait until the junk and yuckiness build up to a point where we can’t stand it. Then we clean it. Then we specifically set aside time to clean the tank. And it always takes longer and more effort than it would have earlier. And we get a bit grossed out in the process.
I realized when cleaning the mirror the other day it’s the same thing we do with the sin and junk in our lives. It builds up a little at a time, and we don’t think it’s that big a deal. It’s just a little, enough to ignore for now. We can still see clearly. Our vision isn’t blurred. But then we wake up one day and everything is murky. We’re not sure what’s happened — we can’t see clearly, there’s junk all around. We feel like “suddenly” we’ve been attacked…but really it’s just a big mess that’s been building up slowly, quietly, invisibly.
Jesus knew this was our tendency — our sin nature — to ignore these little things. To procrastinate, put it off, belittle it and brush it aside. I think that’s why he made it such an important part of his teaching on how to pray:
“Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our debts, as we have also forgiven our debtors.” (Matt 6:11-12)
He said the forgiveness part right after the daily bread part. Like each day we are supposed to ask God to give us what we need for the day — and since each day is going to be filled with temptation and sin, forgive us of that while you’re at it. It’s the daily forgiveness that prevents the junk from building up. It keeps us clean and algae-free.
Sure, I agree that the enemy “prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). But I also think that sometimes the sin that “suddenly” crops up in our lives is just our own sin nature that we’ve neglected to address, or decided to ignore. Roots of bitterness, ego, pride, anger and disillusionment that have grown into a film of dust and algae that overtake the whole tank of our soul.
Paul writes to the church of Ephesus, encouraging them to not “let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold” (Eph 4:26). In essence, he’s saying not to go a day without dealing with your stuff. Because if you do…man, the devil is going to take it to a whole other level. He goes on to say, “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of mailce” (31). Paul knew something about hate and malice. He was personally intimate with the level to which the root of sin would grow. He speaks from a place of authenticity and honestly. “Please deal with your sin on a daily basis. Please don’t let the day end without dealing with your junk. Because if you don’t, you might just turn into the person you never thought you’d become. And then you’ll spend the rest of your life trying to prove otherwise to yourself and others. Trust me, I know.”
At the end of each day, we need to take a good long, hard look in the mirror and be honest with ourselves. Is it time for a deep level, on-our-knees kind of cleaning? Or do we just need to straighten up a few things before turning in? What would happen if each day we prayed, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23-24). If that was our daily prayer, then our mirrors would stay clean, giving a true reflection of ourselves. And our tanks would remain clean, allowing us to float around in peace.
“Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inner place.” (Psalm 51:6)