Earlier this year I started noticing that my big toe was painful. I would notice it especially in bed at night when there was pressure on it or when wearing certain shoes. I thought it was an ingrown toenail, which I have had in the past, so I tried to take care of it doing the things I know to do to alleviate the pain, but nothing helped.
It was annoying, but mostly at night, so during the day I would usually forget about it. Little by little though, the pain got worse. The redness in my toe increased. I finally went to the doctor. He did an x-ray to see if there was any foreign object in the infected area, but there was not. He asked if I had injured my toe in anyway, but I could not remember doing so. He lanced the swollen red area and cleaned out the infected site, irrigating it thoroughly with disinfectant, then left it open to drain. He prescribed a round of antibiotics and told me to come back the following week for a checkup.
The culture showed that I had a staph infection. At the first follow up it seemed to be healing and doing fine. But the incision took a long time to close and at times the site flared up. So more treatment followed, more antibacterials, and I had to diligently keep the site very clean. It took a long time to heal.
As I was reflecting on this saga with my toe, I asked the Lord to teach me through this parable. I’m a firm believer that the Lord uses ordinary things to teach us spiritual truths. Jesus used many different parables during his days of public ministry, and he still speaks to us through parables in our day-to-day lives if we pay attention.
This is what I think he wanted to teach me about this toe infection:
There are people in our lives who are hard to love. Usually we have a person or two that we find it difficult to get along with, hard to relate to, or annoying and bothersome. God places us with people that are hard for us to love so that we learn how to love as God loves. It’s easy to think we are loving, kind people when we are surrounded with folks that we enjoy and get along with, but as soon as we start having a problem with someone, our true stripes show.
Life is a school of love, and the only way we grow in love is by “practicing” on those we find difficult.
We have to work at it. A big part of this is getting very good at forgiveness. Forgiveness takes practice. Practice, practice, practice. And what better practice is there than in forgiving someone who annoys or bugs me repeatedly? We have to stay on it, be diligent about choosing to forgive. If I missed a few days of anti-bacterial applications, the redness in my toe would start to come back. So, too, with forgiveness. If I miss a day of forgiving then bitterness and resentment build up inside of me. It becomes like the infected site on my toe – the pressure builds, the poison grows, and soon that ugliness will come oozing out in one way or another.
How do we keep the infection at bay? We choose to love. We ask for the grace to love. We ask God for help in loving this person. Then we do concrete acts of kindness. We go out of our comfort zone and do something nice for that person. And every night we forgive whatever wrongs are done. In this way we can keep out the root of bitterness and replace it with a sweet root. And we will become joyful Christians instead of sour, crabby, infected ones.