My first time picking blackberries with my granddaughters ended with an experience that I’ll never forget. The sun was bright in the hot afternoon last Saturday here in southwestern Pennsylvania. We were prepared with our supply of sunscreen, water bottles, bicycles, wagon and berry buckets and headed out onto the trail.
We had previously scouted out some good patches of berries near one of the trail’s access points which we knew would be easy to reach while pulling the wagon with little girls. With plans to host a family birthday party picnic the next day, our goal was to pick 3 quarts of berries which we’d use to prepare a special and refreshing fruit drink that our family enjoys.
We arrived at our spot and stepped off the trail down into the weeds and brush where the berry bushes were growing. With 4 adults picking, it shouldn’t take long for us to gather the needed amount of berries. We had finished picking in the first patch and had moved on to the second. Fortunately, the girls had already tired by this point, so were back up on the bike trail with their mom and uncle and away from the berry bushes. Their dad (my son) and I were pushing on to finish gathering the remaining berries from this final patch of the day.
In order to reach the berries which are farther back on the bushes, it’s necessary to step blindly into the weeds and brush, not fully knowing what’s beneath. After years of berry picking, we’re used to dealing with sometimes difficult conditions and often come away with various bug bites and scratches from the sharp thorns. This time though would be different than usual. I took one step, then another, then another until I felt the first stinging pain on my elbow. I thought that it must have been one big mean fly to hurt so much and swatted at it while telling my son that I had just gotten bit.
Meanwhile, whatever had just bit me, was now buzzing and circling at my face and zooming in over and over. Before I knew it, there were more “flies,” which I would soon realize were hornets. They were swarming now and aggressively attacking, and as I was instinctively backing away from them and getting more stings, I heard the voice of my son telling me to get out of there and to start running. If it wasn’t for him being closeby and swatting the bees away from my back and legs and arms, I would have likely ended up with more stings than the five I received.
It was a pretty painful experience. One which I’d never had before that day. Three days later, I was still feeling the pain and effects of the stings. In the hours that followed, I thought of how sin operates in our lives. How we take one step in towards it, not realizing what’s below our feet or what’s ahead in the next move we make. How with each step forward, we gain confidence when nothing bad occurs. It seems safe enough. Then suddenly, out of nowhere, the stings begin, one after the other, ferocious and painful, until we succumb to them or run from them, sometimes needing the hand of a friend to pull us away or to fight for us.
Years ago, while teaching a middle school Sunday School class, one of the kids shared a saying with me that I’ve never forgotten: “Sin will take you farther than you want to go, keep you longer than you want to stay, and cost you more than you want to pay.” The biblical definition for sin is: rebellion against God or transgression of the law of God. Sin hurts. It is painful. It has consequences, sometimes terrible consequences. Don’t stay in it. Run from it. As fast as you can. Turn to God in repentance. He is waiting for you.
HOPE NUGGET: O Lord, rebuke me not in your anger, nor discipline me in your wrath! For your arrows have sunk into me, and your hand has come down on me. There is no soundness in my flesh because of your indignation; there is no health in my bones because of my sin. For my iniquities have gone over my head; like a heavy burden, they are too heavy for me. My wounds stink and fester because of my foolishness, I am utterly bowed down and prostrate; all the day I go about mourning. For my sides are filled with burning, and there is no soundness in my flesh. I am feeble and crushed; I groan because of the tumult of my heart. O Lord, all my longing is before you; my sighing is not hidden from you. My heart throbs; my strength fails me, and the light of my eyes—it also has gone from me. My friends and companions stand aloof from my plague, and my nearest kin stand far off. Those who seek my life lay their snares; those who seek my hurt speak of ruin and meditate treachery all day long. But I am like a deaf man; I do not hear, like a mute man who does not open his mouth. I have become like a man who does not hear, and in whose mouth are no rebukes. But for you, O Lord, do I wait; it is you, O Lord my God, who will answer. For I said, “Only let them not rejoice over me, who boast against me when my foot slips!” For I am ready to fall, and my pain is ever before me. I confess my iniquity; I am sorry for my sin. But my foes are vigorous, they are mighty, and many are those who hate me wrongfully. Those who render me evil for good accuse me because I follow after good. Do not forsake me, O Lord! O my God, be not far from me! Make haste to help me, O Lord, my salvation! [Psalm 38]