I had my ears washed out yesterday.
I will spare you the disgusting details. But I will tell you this: the reason I had to go see about it was because I woke up at 6 a.m. on Sunday morning almost completely deaf in my left ear. There was a hollow, heavy fullness where my hearing used to be, and it was so bad that I had to turn the right side of my head to properly hear my husband when he asked me a question.
So I went. And the doctor peered into the deafened ear. “Yeah,” she said, “this is pretty clogged.”
No kidding, I thought. She peered into my other ear as a matter of course. “Hey,” she said, “this one is clogged, too.”
I was surprised. “Probably not as bad as the other one,” I said. “I can hear fine out of that ear.”
She dutifully cleaned out the deafened ear, and the heavens of sound opened to me. Clarity returned. “Oh,” I said, “that’s great–”
And then I paused. Because with one ear now completely clear, I could suddenly hear the truth: my “good” and “normal” ear could barely hear anything at all, either! I asked her to clean it out, too.
It always startles me how quickly my brain adjusts to my own handicaps and problems. My ear had been clogged for some time, but my mind made do with the lack of clarity: somehow, I had come to view my clogged-up hearing as perfectly clear until absolute deafness intervened.
In other words, I didn’t know how bad it was until it was really, really bad.
I was thinking about this today when I went on my morning God walk and, on the way back, checked the news headlines on my phone after my quiet time with God. I’d been talking to God for a half hour; a five-minute check of the headlines for the day probably doesn’t seem like a huge lapse.
But I know myself. And I know that on every walk I’ve ever been on with God I make a point to keep my phone put away (except for Bible reading), even if my quiet time is “technically” over. What does it hurt to spend an extra five or ten minutes hanging out with God? Yes, it was a tiny lapse, not even really a lapse as such, but I knew it was a subtle way of giving ground to self and world over God.
I also knew that, if I didn’t keep an eye on that, five minutes would turn into ten, would turn into fifteen, and before long I’d be down to a twice-a-week quiet time with the other five days being devoted to surfing the net as I walked down the road. I learned only yesterday from my own experience that deafness can start as having 85% of your ability to hear.
One of the things I often tell my students is that success in my class is a sum total of many, many small choices. Rare is the student who wants to fail, and yet students do because they’ve made a series of small choices: the choice not to read, the choice not to attend, the choice not to start the paper early. Those choices add up; eventually, they calcify into failure.
Your spiritual walk, and mine, is no different. It is the sum of all the small choices that you make. Ignoring a minor issue now probably doesn’t seem like a big deal. Later, though, when you’re wondering how it is you got to where you happen to be, you’ll see that small choice as one small step on a long walk to nowhere.
So today keep an eye out for your red flags. Be wary of the “not-quite-rights”: the habit sneaking in on your quiet time, the criticisms that leak out of your lips, the tiny thing you’re hiding, the fact that you’ve stopped private Bible study, the way you’ve given up on church attendance. Every small incident is a sign of something, so pay attention and interpret them carefully.
“You know,” said the doctor yesterday, “next time just come in sooner before it gets like this. It doesn’t have to be this bad.”
It doesn’t have to be this bad.
But it will be, if you let it.