Many years ago, I was receiving treatment for some prevalent plantar warts. Interestingly enough, the plantar warts didn’t cause me much discomfort, but the treatment was extremely uncomfortable and required much endurance. A concoction was applied topically which caused the area on the bottom of my foot to form huge blisters and an itchy, poison ivy like rash to crawl up my calf. I wasn’t supposed to pop the blisters, and so it was painful to walk and put on regular shoes. I had to wear ugly sports sandals with socks to work until the blisters popped on their own. I had to endure this treatment more than once over the course of a number of months, so that the layers of infected tissue could be removed, thus also removing the warts.
One such treatment took place just before my husband and I attended a summer wedding. Luckily the blisters had popped in time for me to wear pretty shoes with my dress and I was able to cover my rash with nylons. I was ready to go, thinking my problem was adequately hidden. Little did I know what all would unfold on this hot summer day ahead.
The wedding reception venue was beautiful – one that only a few summers prior (when my then fiance and I were looking to book our own wedding reception, declined our request as they didn’t host wedding receptions), must have since had a change in policy. It had lovely olde-world terraces with picturesque surroundings, inviting visitors to enjoy the outdoor spaces.
Upon arrival, we enjoyed little time perusing the grounds in the heat, when we decided to join the others inside a more comfortable air conditioned climate. As luck would have it, on one of the hottest days of the year, the air conditioning had ceased to work properly and wedding party and guests were left sweating in their fancy clothes. It was probably reminiscent of a bygone era in the vintage like setting – had the women worn their hats and carried intricate fans with which to fan themselves like in days of old, we’d likely have been better off. However, since we weren’t equipped with such ‘luxuries’, we were left to tough it out in the heat for the afternoon and evening once the dinner and program formally began.
My itchy rash, encased in nylon, was not faring well, exacerbated by the heat and my sweat and scratching only made it/me more miserable. Attempting to keep my head and remain looking like a lady and not some wild, scratching, chignon pulling, hot mess, I sat holding my water goblet near my lap and secretly sprinkling water on my calf (nylons and all) under the table so beautifully clothed. This relieved my itching distress but for a moment and I’d have to stealthily perform the act again. Thankfully the people at my table were friends and looked on with sympathy and some laughter, but no one scoffed at my behaviour or asked that I leave.
Despite my discomfort, I was able to enjoy the beauty of the day and the virtue of the commitment witnessed. Later, my rash and subsequent itch cleared and my warts disappeared, but that doesn’t mean I’ve never been itchy again or had the urge to compulsively scratch. The thing about an itch is that you can treat the symptom, but until you remove the cause, you’ll have to continue treatments every time it crops up.
Scripture cautions us about treatment plans for itchy ears. “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.” 2 Timothy 4:3-4 ESV. I would venture that we have seen the times where people will not endure sound teaching and rather than seeking God’s word to us in its entirety, we topic shop, looking for catchy opinions from others that tickle our fancies, essentially filling up on nothing more than spiritual junk food. In order to quell and pacify our itches, we accumulate teachers who teach according to our own interests – goodness knows we can find a plethora of them by clicking a few buttons. Do we honestly seek out teachers who have proved themselves and demonstrated sound teaching practices, but might say something we don’t want to hear or understand, forgetting that there are times when we might need exactly what we don’t want? I would speculate that it’s highly likely that we don’t usually want what we need and we don’t usually need what we want.
In a world that is driven by a self- satisfying, self-serving, quick fix approach while denying the holiness of God, our default mode is to wander off and even begin to chase counterfeits and lies that the enemy has prepared for us to keep us from God and truth because they’re easy and palatable. When we only seek out perspectives and teachings that suit our current fancy, we are sabotaging our own health and contributing to unbalanced spirits.
Matthew 13:15 says it like this: “For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.” NIV. These verses make me think of the times when my kids plug their ears and say “nahnahnah – I can’t hear you”. They can – they don’t want to and they have to purposefully turn away to not hear what they need to hear. Sometimes, probably not often enough, I gently and patiently pull their fingers out of their ears and turn their faces, saying “look at me – this is for your good”. Sometimes, I feel like finger flicking their foreheads, saying, “Are you kidding me?!” If I’m really honest, sometimes I feel like this towards grown ups too, but it’s not just about “them”, it’s also about my ears and eyes and heart.
The question I need to answer for myself is whether or not I want my ears scratched instead of healed. Do I want to merely placate all my symptoms or do I want to get to the heart of the matter? The root of the problem? My sin nature… will I choose to turn and repent (change direction) so that I can hear and see and understand and be healed? The healing of my calloused heart is found in God’s grace and redeeming love. “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” Ezekiel 36:26 NIV.
In 2nd Timothy, Paul goes on after cautioning Timothy about the plight of itching ears, to say: “But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.” 2 Timothy 2:5 NIV. Keep your head in all situations. Well now, that’s a loaded statement (and I’m sure I could write a book about all the times I haven’t kept my head) that requires more than I’ve got and thankfully, God has provided me with His armour and particularly the helmet of salvation which guards my mind – am I putting it on every day? Am I equipping myself with the word of God and the power of His Spirit to endure life’s inevitable hardships and suffering? Do I continue to both live out and speak the Good News in my circles of influence? Am I discharging all the duties of my ministry (each believer has one)? Paul described Timothy’s ministry in verse 2 as preaching the word – that is God’s word, Scripture, not the latest opinion or fad; in and out of season – both when people appear ripe to hear as well as when they don’t (it’s a work of the Holy Spirit and not conditional upon our explanation or delivery). He (and we also) are entrusted with patiently and carefully instructing God’s word in order to correct, rebuke, encourage & urge one another towards Christ – like attitudes and actions. It is a charge He equips us for, if we would but get into His word. If we’re only rebuked and reproved and never patiently encouraged or taught, we will remain spiritually unhealthy. The reverse is also true, If we’re never corrected or rebuked and only and always encouraged and supported to continue in the same direction (that may be on a trajectory away from Biblical truth), our hope may be erroneously misdirected to our spiritual malady.
Itchiness is a symptom of some underlying cause. If we find ourselves attempting to scratch away at the surface itch and seek out “feel-good” relief, we’ll never eliminate the underlying illness. May we pursue healthy hearts as top priority and stop scratching our itchy ears. Oh that we would turn to Him and be healed.