The only bone I’ve ever broken has a pretty gruesome story behind it.
My family heats our home via woodstove, and we’ve done so for years. Until he passed away, my dad was the one who would acquire the wood for it, whether he went out and chopped it himself (which was usually the case) or if a friend helped him out. My brother and I usually helped him cut it, move it, and stack it. One winter, when I was 15, my brother and I were splitting and stacking wood in front of the basement door while my dad was tossing it down the hill to us. I was a little nervous that he was going to accidently hit me, so I turned around to glance at him really quickly. Being the idiot that I was and still am, I did it in the middle of swinging a mallet to hit a wedge into a piece of wood. I don’t remember if I hit the wedge at all, but I certainly remember hitting my thumb.
I jumped and howled in pain. I thought I’d just smashed it. My dad asked if I was okay. I began to say, “No,” when I looked down at my thumb and saw it was bleeding profusely. I did as my dad told me and ran inside to my mom. She cleaned it off, but we noticed that it wouldn’t stop bleeding. After keeping it in cold water for a while, we realized not only that it wasn’t going to stop bleeding, but also that the bottom of my thumbnail had popped out from under the skin. So we went to the emergency room.
As it turned out, I broke the tip of my thumb, so there was nothing they could do to really fix it. I had to wear a splint for two or three weeks. In regards to my thumbnail, it was going to fall out.
But first, it had to be pushed back in.
I wish I could sit here and tell you it wasn’t as bad as it sounds, that I took it like a champ, but it was so painful. I grimaced and groaned while it was happening. When the doctor was done and my thumb was still sore from the whole experience, I sobbed.
The point of me telling you that lovely story is to make the point that sometimes we must endure a terrible amount of pain to really be healed.
The same is true with our idols. In order to serve God and God alone, to be healed of our heart’s habit of serving other gods, we’re going to have to endure some really painful experiences.
The Israelites learned that really fast. Their first test after following God and following Moses out of Egypt was a pretty big one. They had just been chased by Pharaoh’s men, horses, and chariots across the Red Sea. Pharaoh’s men and property were floating in the sea and the Israelites’ pulses were dropping back down to normal as they headed out to Shur. There they spent three days walking around in the wild and not finding a single drop of water. Then they came to Marah, and they finally saw water.
I imagine the Israelites were not only relieved, but happy. They ran for their lives between two walls of sea only to realize that was the last time they’d even see water in a few days. And here, finally, is some water.
To quote “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” “Water, water everywhere / Nor any drop to drink.”
Before the children of Israel could get their cups out to fill them up and gulp down the water, they discovered that the water was bitter. As rough as life already was, it would’ve been even worse to drink the water.
Talk about a test and perhaps even a moment of panic. If there was ever temptation for the Israelites to turn to their idols, whom they felt had provided for them before, it would’ve been then.
I can hear them now. “We narrowly missed drowning and now we’re perishing. What kind of provision is this?”
“Why did He bring us out only to let us die in the wilderness? Hardly seems fair. What’d we do to deserve this?”
“My old gods would’ve had sorted all this out already.”
The first scare in our attempt to serve God is arguably the worst. God told us He’d take care of us, but in that moment we wonder where He’s at or if He’s capable of coming through. Then we recall our idols. They came through for us. Always there when we needed them, always satisfying us.
But in reality, idols give us just enough to make us think all of that. They never give us real fulfillment, just appeasement and comfort masquerading as fulfillment. It’s enough to make us look nowhere else, but not enough to keep us from longing for something more and something better.
The gods we serve aren’t enough to kill our longing from wanting to find and serve the One True God.
The Israelites complained to Moses; Moses talked to God. God showed Moses a piece of wood, and when Moses threw it into the water, it changed. It became sweet.
Their problem was solved by talking to God.
All they had to do was practice turning to God in their moment of need. Is it really that difficult? Harder for some than others, I’d say, once you get started. To start believing in God above everything else – everything that’s worked before, everything that’s stuck by you – is most difficult.
After sweetening the water, God established an ordinance and issued the children of Israel a challenge. “If you will listen carefully to the voice of the Lord your God, and do what is right in his sight, and give heed to his commandments and keep all his statues, I will not bring upon you any of the diseases that I brought upon the Egyptians for I am the Lord who heals you” (Exodus 15:26, NRSV).
God’s basically saying, to them and to us, “If you’ll let me be your one and only God, I’ll heal and take care of you.”
God always seems to have a way of reassuring us when life’s less than perfect. If leaving our idols were easy, they wouldn’t be our idols. So God will be there – through every step, bump, and fall – to help us keep our hearts set on Him and pursue Him.
By Carrie Prevette