I was trying to get my daughter ready for church this past Sunday morning, and she was being fairly cooperative. That is, until I tried to put her pants on. She and I both suffer from what I like to call sweet skin. Mosquitoes love us for some reason. And she had a large bite on her heel that she was feverishly scratching.
It didn’t matter how many times I pulled her hand away, or how many times I told her the scratching wouldn’t help her. In fact, I told her, it would make it worse. But she couldn’t calm herself enough to listen: she needed to scratch. She had to. And it didn’t matter how exasperated I was that she wouldn’t let me get her ready so she could have fun at church, she needed to scratch that itch. She couldn’t help it.
And as frustrating as it was for me to watch her struggle, it made me think of myself and how I struggle just the same.
The more we scratch, the more we itch.
That is how our flesh responds. And sometimes it doesn’t matter that we know it will itch after we scratch. It feels so good in that moment to relieve that itch.
What if we can’t see the redness we are making with our nails digging in? What if our itch is internal? What if our scratches are daily actions that relieve us momentarily, then cause an even more insatiable itch? Our flesh’s response to the itch is to command a scratch, and the more we scratch, the more we itch. Until we’ve scratched our skin – our souls – ragged.
The apostle Paul sums this up so perfectly in Romans.
15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature.[a] For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.
It is the flesh, and its itch that burns in our brains, that demands a scratch. And the more we do it, the more it takes root. But we are not all flesh. We are something more.
5 Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. 6 The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace.
We are spirit beings. We can overcome the itch. But first, we’re going to have to stop scratching it, one urge at a time. Will we ever be itch-free?
But we can rescue our days from its domination.
This is just an itch, and I don’t have to scratch.