If you were to walk into our house today, it would take about five seconds for the distinct smell of garlic to hit you in the face. It is not because Rachael is cooking a potent Italian meal or because we are afraid of vampires. No, the strong presence of garlic in our home is for one simple reason: mosquitoes. We do not know how it happened, but somehow a few mosquitoes decided to multiply their progeny in the comfort of our house. And multiply they did. For weeks now we have had dozens upon dozens of mosquitoes inside our house, swarming around us like an Egyptian plague.
So what does this have to do with garlic? We have a liquid garlic concentrate that we spray in our back yard to deal with the mosquitoes. The sales pitch is not that the spray kills the mosquitoes but that it creates an inhospitable environment for them, sending them to our ever-grateful neighbors’ yards. And it works, so much so that Rachael, in a twist of modern irony, has often retreated to our back yard to escape the mosquitoes in our house. We tried a few other methods of exterminating the pests before bringing the outside solution indoors, but when our boys’ legs were eaten up so badly that they look like residents of a leper colony we decided it was time to take action. For the past three nights I have sprayed the downstairs sinks with high-powered garlic, stopped up the drains (apparently they lay their eggs in the P-trap), and sure enough, the plague has come to an end.
A few years ago our infestation of ticks–who did not swarm around us but ominously crawled into our living space by the hundreds–sparked meditation on how we often allow an environment in our lives where sin can flourish. In that case the action step was to eliminate the environment where the pests thrived, in particular, wood piles and tall grass. In the case of the mosquitoes we had to proactively create an environment where they could not thrive, namely, make our house smell like an exaggerated Italian kitchen until the mosquitoes decided to ditch our place for another source of blood.
The more I study both the Scriptures and my own heart, the more I am convinced that we must create an environment that is inhospitable to sin by nurturing a heart of gratitude. We see this in the life of Joseph, whose “no” to Potiphar’s wife flowed naturally from an environment of gratitude for all the ways God had favored him, even amidst abuse and enslavement. We see the opposite in the wilderness generation of Israelites, whose chronic forgetfulness led them to distrust and disobey God at every turn, despite the mountain of favor in the previous months for which they should have been endlessly grateful.
Such is our condition as fallen humans. Psychologists call it “hedonic adaptation,” our propensity to make our newly experienced degree of comfort into a bare minimum for contentment. When the new vehicle or house or wardrobe or entertainment system becomes a necessity rather than a privilege, gratitude suffocates and discontent and self-pity prime us for sinful behavior. Thus being proactively grateful is necessary for our spiritual survival.
In the weeks leading up to Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday, I will be dedicating this space to helping nurture gratitude in our hearts for what Jesus did for us not only during Holy Week but in the journey to Golgotha. From Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Messiah onward, the clear trajectory of our Lord was toward his betrayal, death, and resurrection for his people. Each step along that dreadful path gives us a cause for gratitude, a reason to exclaim, “thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:57).
I need this desperately, as the chronic forgetfulness of the wilderness wanderers plagues my heart as well. I need to experience appropriate gratitude for all Christ has accomplished on my behalf. As we walk with Jesus toward the cross in the weeks to come, may the Spirit grant us such potent gratitude that our hearts will be a hostile environment for greed, resentment, lust, and pride, and more importantly, welcome homes for deep communion with our crucified and risen Savior.