The white smoke inched its way up to the ceiling where the slow moving, yellowed fan made it disappear into nothingness. With every exhale of my breath, I made it dance a little, and if I stuck my little finger in the milky, ascending stream, oh the patterns I could make! I picked up the cigarette a couple of times and waved it carefully from side to side, and feeling emboldened by solitude and purely observational knowhow, I carefully flicked off its ash and placed it between my lips, taking a long, pensive drag. But before I could exhale to tell if this enterprise was really mine for the taking, my mother, in her ninja-like stealth, yanked my five-year-old arm in one hand and commenced to spanking me with the other hand. At that, dear Friend, with choking smoke trying to find an escape from my lungs, mouth, and nostrils while hot tears and thick snot ran down my face and with the ferocity of my mother’s licks landing powerfully on my hind parts, I realized I would never be a smoker.
I wish all sin was like that. How much better the world would be if the first time we engaged in sin, any sin, we had the life scared out of us by a suddenly appearing, unsparing, rod-wielding mother and a literal inability to breathe. I can tell you with absolute certainty that I would have gotten into a lot less trouble in my teenaged years if my mama would have popped out from a few more darkened corners every now and then.
But sin isn’t like that because Satan is on a mission. In his efforts “to steal, and to kill, and to destroy” (John 10: 10, KJV), Satan waits until temptation has the most likelihood of devolving into sin, and for me, that meant that my mama was nowhere around because a) I love and respect her too much to do it in her face, and b) I value what she thinks about me.
Last night, I slept hard, and for the first time in a long time I woke up and remembered my dream. It was a sordid, destructive, disturbingly sinful dream. Even while I was dreaming it, I knew it was wrong. I have no idea how long I was really dreaming, but in my dream it was a long, drawn out, detailed sort of sin, and upon waking I was equally weirded out, frightened, and grateful to God that it wasn’t real and for bringing me out of it. I lay there in a fog for a few minutes trying to do some sort of dream analysis when I understood what had gone wrong. I had let Satan slip into my mind.
All weekend long, I had unplugged from the world. These days, I am less concerned about offending someone by my need for solitude. Every now and then to survive, quite literally, the onslaughts of life, I must take a personal mental and physical respite. It may seem selfish or escapist (and it probably is), but if I don’t isolate myself a few days a month, I’d probably need medication just to get out of bed. But in that separation, I had also disconnected from God. I hadn’t prayed or studied my Bible or even gone to my spiritual journal. Although I had not done anything or even thought anything particularly “bad,” I did not have my defenses up enough to protect myself (yes, even in sleep) from Satan. And he pounced.
But God is an awesome God, and yet while I was engaged in sin in the dream, and while I had virtually ignored my obligation and obedience to God the entire holiday weekend, the Holy Spirit was pulling me away, fighting a battle I didn’t even know was raging. I went into prayer and quoting scriptures, and all the uneasiness and disgust and shame melted away (I could feel Satan retreating) into joy and gratefulness that His “grace is sufficient” (2 Corinthians 12: 9, NIV). It also taught me a valuable lesson that I hope sticks like the one I learned hovering over that cigarette over thirty years ago: “do not give the devil a foothold” (Ephesians 4: 27, NIV).
So, Friend, while we are all navigating this holiday season that may bring a little down time and needed vacations, let’s not forget to honor God with our time. It’s not for his benefit, but for ours. We must stay ready, for Satan is sneaky and always looking for an in with us.
“And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying…” (Ephesians 6: 18, NIV)