“You have set our iniquities before You, Our secret sins in the light of Your countenance” (Psalms 90:8 NKJV).
I was taking a bucket of food scraps to the compost bin when I saw them. White plastic grocery bags scattered all along the edge of the woods. Probably 30 or 40 of them.
Our family lives in the Ozark Mountains on a homestead. We have a large garden and a compost bin resides between the garden and the woods. When our son Elijah was age 7, one of his chores was to take out our food scrap bucket to the compost bin. We lined the bucket with a plastic white grocery bag to keep the juice and mess in the bucket to a minimum. On this day, the bucket was particularly heavy with watermelon rinds, so I was taking it out for him when I saw the aforementioned bags scattered into the edge of the woods.
When Elijah was initially given the job just a few months earlier, he was supposed to take the emptied bags and put them in the trash barrel, which was a short distance from the house and garden. With the logic of a child, he felt it was easier to just throw the bags into the compost bin than to walk a little farther to the burn barrel, which he did.
When I discovered the compost was filling up with plastic bags, a short committee meeting with the young man in charge of compost resulted in an agreement that protocol would be to take the bags to the trash barrel without compromise.
As can happen with a young boy, other things like riding a bike, chasing the ducks down to the pond, climbing a tree, even homeschool and other chores, can often distract. Quickly tossing the bag into the woods became an easy thing, and he thought that no one would see them there.
Perhaps no one would have ever seen one or two, or even more, but after a while the sheer accumulated mass began to stand out and beg to be found out.
Be Sure Your Bags Will Find You Out
Now, here’s the obvious morality lesson—how like sin to start out small and secret and end up big and notorious. As with the bags, often when we start out on a path of sin, we justify it by saying, “O, it’ll just be this one time and no one will know.”
After that first bag is thrown into the woods, and we see no one else has discovered it, we think, “Hey, that was easy. I can do it maybe just one more time.” And we toss out just one more bag.
Two bags aren’t much more noticeable than one, so another goes out, then another, until there’s quite a collection of bags. At this point we may think, “Wow, that’s a lot of bags out there, but nobody has ever noticed them so maybe I don’t need to worry about tossing them out there.”
Then we start the justification jive, “Actually, the woods are a great place to toss bags. There’s no garden out there to be messing up. No yard. Nobody will notice. It’s just the woods and it won’t matter.”
Now, the obvious Bible verse—Numbers 32:23 KJV “¼ be sure your sin will find you out.” It’s just like the Bible to always be right!
Though Elijah and his bags were not found out right away, they were found out. His punishment was to have to root through the woods and underbrush, and collect every bag for the trash barrel. The other option was not something he wanted to consider!
As he rooted around, most of the bags were easy to find and pick up. But others weren’t so easy. Some were soggy with rainwater and mud and had to be peeled up from the ground a dripping mess. Some were entwined, twisted and poked on tree limbs, and had to be wrestled from the branches. Some were in the thorny clutches of briar vines, and removal resulted in long red scratches. Others were covered with leaves and hard to find. On top of it all, he had to watch carefully for dangerous copperhead snakes.
To Elijah, it seemed like the more he picked up, the more he found, but finally, the job was done, and Elijah promised that from then on he would always deposit the used bags in the trash barrel—end of story.
Oops, Not End of Story
A week later as he and I were out by the compost, we looked into the woods and there before us were more of the dreadful bags. Trying to remain calm, I asked Elijah why he was already throwing bags into the woods again, only days after promising to always take them to the burn barrel.
“But, I haven’t thrown any more out there, Pa,” he pleaded.
“What are those bags doing out there, then?” I asked.
“I don’t know, Pa.”
He seemed perfectly sincere, so as we looked closer we realized that it was old bags that had been so well hidden before, he hadn’t seen them until now, after a storm and wind had exposed them.
Have you ever given in to one little hidden sin, thinking it would be your only or last time? Was it? Probably not if you’re like me and the rest of the human race.
As humans, it’s too easy for us to grease the neural pathway to habit, to justify and repeat something we started, knowing we shouldn’t. Pretty soon we have a whole forest full of dirty, tangled, used, plastic grocery bags.
When our sins find us out, if we’re truly sorry, we try to do all we can to collect the mess we made with them, and clean up “the woods.” But, oh what a trial it can be.
When we sin, we may think we’re hiding it from others, or that this particular sin doesn’t affect anybody else. But, it always does. Even if we think it doesn’t affect any of our earthly friends, Isaiah 53:10-12 tells us of the most important Person it affects, “When You make His soul an offering for sin, For He shall bear their iniquities; And He bore the sin of many.” Each of our sins added to Jesus’ burden when He was on the cross, and brings sorrow to Him as we commit them and suffer through their results.
Thankfully, our Lord is a forgiving Father who forgives us immediately after our sincere cry. Trying to make sins right with others is not that easy. It’s like trying to get those dirty bags out of the brambles and woods. Like those bags, our characters may have become muddy or torn in the eyes of others. We may have lost credibility that will be impossible to ever regain.
And, to add insult to injury, just when you think you’ve straightened up the mess that your hidden sinning caused, a storm or trial comes into your life, more bags pop up and you have to start the cleanup all over again.
Elijah and I don’t know if we’ve found the last bag in our woods, but we have agreed that if we ever find another one, we’re going to get it in the trash barrel right away, and be sure to never again throw another bag into the woods.
Skip Joers lives in rural Arkansas with his wife Holly and son Elijah.