A few years ago, I decided to drive to Angel Fire, NM, for a hot air balloon festival because riding in a hot air balloon was on my bucket list. Now mind you, I have always been afraid of heights. But I didn’t let that stop me. At least not this time. As a photographer, capturing images of God’s landscape from the air was the most appealing aspect of the adventure. I chose Angel Fire because of the name and didn’t let it deter me that I had a long drive ahead. I selected my route carefully to make stopping points of great interest.
Little did I know that I would experience excruciating pain on this trip (of course, it takes a backseat, hands down, to the tragic accident in northern California, but that’s a tale for another day for those of you who haven’t already heard it).
When I arrived, weary from my travels, I took some Aleve and went to bed. I had never taken Aleve before, but I had picked it up for the trip and stuck it in my travel bag. The following day, bright and early, I headed out for my usual run. I quickly learned about the altitude in New Mexico and returned to the cabin. I noticed that I had gotten some unusual red spots on my face, but I didn’t put too much thought into it before heading off for breakfast.
The spots and my aches seemed to worsen, so I returned to my cabin to take more Aleve and lay down. To spare you the details, let’s put this phrase on repeat….repeat…repeat…over the course of the next few days until the inside of my mouth was so sore, I could hardly eat or drink, my body had gotten the same red blotches as my face, and my lips were slightly swollen and tingling.
You may be ahead of me at this point and have realized that I am allergic to Aleve. On the other hand, I did not figure that out until a year later when I retook it because my doctor diagnosed it as a strange virus and bug bites.
I did not know that these painkillers were the source of the pain. I kept returning to it and repeating the same patterns. I think this is symbolic of our sinful ways. We can keep returning to unhealthy relationships or sinful behaviors to fill the gaps in our past pains when we don’t realize they are causing it and only making it worse. When we don’t know Christ as the answer, we search for the wrong things. It can be as painful as hives in your mouth, if not more.
Only One person can fill those gaps and help us heal: Jesus Christ. When we choose Him over our sinful behaviors and stay rooted and grounded in His love, He can help take away the pain of our past. “Whoever pursues righteousness and unfailing love will find life, righteousness, and honor” (Prov. 21:21, ESV).
The Bible says if we know the truth of Christ and then still return to our sinful patterns, we are even worse off. Peter quotes Proverbs to give us a vivid image of what that is like, “For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them. What the true proverb says has happened to them: ‘The dog returns to its own vomit, and the sow, after washing herself, returns to wallow in the mire’ ” (2 Peter 26:21-22, ESV). This likely refers to those who appear to be Christians but were never truly regenerated. God promises that a person who truly knows Him is saved by His grace, never to fall away.
Once we know Christ as our Savior, and He redeems us from our sinful behaviors, we won’t want to return. There may still be temptations, but God helps us overcome them (I Cor. 10:13, ESV). The key ingredients to knowing what God wants for us are to be still, listen, ask Him, and meditate on and read His Word daily. Then and only then will we stop returning to the source of our pain and receive God’s grace and healing.
I made the drive home, but not without considering selling my car and flying back. A shot of steroids from the clinic at the base of the mountain did the trick, and when I arrived home, I stopped taking the Aleve and returned to my ordinary painkillers. A year later, I found them in my travel bag at the same time as a toothache, and I popped a couple and went to bed….the next morning, ‘that strange virus and bug bites returned.’
“As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God” (Psalm 42:1, ESV. Emphasis mine).