True, there are far worse things for a person to have to deal with, and I really have no right to complain about itchy skin. But it’s something that I’ve dealt with since I was in middle school, and, though it may seem like an insignificant thing, it’s taught me what I think is a significant spiritual truth regarding dealing with temptation. That may seem odd, but let me do my best to explain.
You see, reader, I’ve learned that when my skin starts to tingle and crawl and scream with an inconsolable itch, there are always two possible responses.
I can scratch the itch, or I can soothe it.
Scratching an itch is always the immediate, natural response. Gross as it sounds, I often scratch without even thinking about it, and for a brief moment, it feels so, so good. You know how it feels when you scratch a mosquito bite – feels good, right? But the problem with scratching an itch, as you probably know, is that it always makes the itch worse. As satisfying as scratching an itch might feel, in the next moment, the itch comes back even stronger and more unbearable than before. Not to mention the fact that you’re scratching (a.k.a. damaging) your skin. Sometimes it’s so bad that my skin starts to bleed, and the itching will always be worse than it was before. Not good. Not fun.
Soothing an itch, on the other hand, looks a lot different. This is when my skin begins to crawl, but instead of scratching it, I get my lotion and lather up my legs like there’s no tomorrow. Sometimes when the itching gets really bad I have to go the tub and run cold water over my legs to calm down the inflammation (or whatever it is that’s going on). Either way, with lotion or cold water, the itch actually subsides, and my skin isn’t damaged in the process. In fact, the lotion helps to heal my skin as it soothes the itching.
Maybe this is all way more information than you want, but something that I’ve learned is that having a really bad itch is the same as facing temptation. And there are always the same two responses.
My first option is to scratch the itch. The response that comes most naturally is to satisfy my sin by giving in to temptation, which provides immediate, false satisfaction. Pursuing sin only makes temptation harder to resist the next time, and it’s incredibly damaging to me, my relationships with others, and, most significantly, my relationship with God.
My second option is to soothe the itch: I can fight temptation by speaking truth to myself, by running to the Father and asking for His strength and grace. I can remind myself of who God is and who I am in Christ. These are the things which quiet the voice of temptation and help to heal the brokenness in my heart and mind.
Though they seem to be opposite parts of who I am, my skin and my soul actually need the same kind of treatment. Just like I need good lotion to ease the itching of my dry skin, I need the truth of God’s goodness, grace, and greatness to calm the restless cravings of my spiritual flesh.
And when I put on lotion instead of scratching and when I run to God instead of pursuing sin, I can always trust that healing will take place. The only question is if will I be intentional in pursuing that healing. Because healing is always available.