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Get rid of the sack

A gentle response defuses anger, but a sharp tongue kindles a temper-fire. (Proverbs 15:1)

It is fire season here in Arizona - summer storms bringing lightning strikes that catch very dry timber on fire very easily. With the approaching monsoon season, the winds begin to pick up and the afternoon winds seem to carry those embers to new areas very easily, allowing the fire to spread sometimes with wild abandon. Add to this the complexity of rocky crags that make doing any kind of fire-line breaks almost impossible and you have the makings of very resistive fires. What the firefighters seem to dread more than anything is that weather report indicating the winds will pick up, or never die down for long periods of time. Why? They realize every wind gust means longer days and nights of fighting that fire!

Gentle breezes are one thing, but the gusts of our rainy season are another. Gentle breezes mean you might just get ahead of the fire's spread. The billowing gusts of up to 60 mph signal longer hours of 'fire-fighting', greater depths of exhaustion from the hard work, and longer periods of time alienated from the relationships that matter to them. Does this sound at all like what happens when we let our words carry us down the path to angry responses? I can see how one ember 'catches hold' and sparks a huge flaming fire, can't you? In time, it is 'fueled' by whatever has been left 'unsaid' in much the same way as the tiny ember of the fire is able to 'take hold' because of the dense undergrowth in the forest.

I have sat idly by blazing campfires, watching as those tiny embers are carry upward upon the heat of the flames, into the night sky. I know each one carried the potential to be a full-fledged fire. I really need to think about my words in much the same way. I need to think of them as tiny embers, carried upon the 'heat' of the flames of whatever 'moment' I find myself in. I have watched as they were carried upon the winds of some 'curt words' or 'not well-planned answers' and 'fanned' into a full-fledged 'anger storm'. I didn't intend for any of those 'sparks' to take hold and begin another firestorm, but they did. The realization of just how much 'fuel' might be 'laying around' in our lives for such fires to take hold is also quite eye-opening to me. Why is it we let things go untended until they pile up into one nice, nasty mess of 'kindling' for the next 'hot ember' that comes our way?

There are things we need to clean up and discard, aren't there? Anger only takes hold where there is kindling for the ember. An ember will 'burn out' if there is no kindling. I have been guilty of doing something one of my college professors referred to as 'gunny-sacking'. That means I just 'store away' those tiny things I say 'rolled off my back', but really the didn't. They just rolled into this 'sack' of woes and heartache until one day I find the sack is so full I need to empty the contents! God bless the one whose 'ember' finds the fuel in that sack! Have you been there? Letting things go (or saying you did), only to find you have just let them roll down your back into a huge sack of woes you carry along until that one moment when the ember was just right to lay hold of all that was in there?

If we don't want 'anger storms' in our lives, we need to discard the sack - not just keep it empty! I have heard people say they needed to empty their sack and then all would be well, but in reality we shouldn't even have the sack. It is impossible to keep the fuel out of our relationships unless we are doing a constant 'clean up' of the 'undergrowth' that actually fuels fires. In much the same way the forest rangers clean the forest floors and cut out the dead low-hanging limbs on the trees, we need to pay close attention to the condition of our 'relationship forests'. Embers will come from time to time, but the condition of our allowed 'undergrowth' determines if there will be a full-fledged fire that comes. Just sayin!

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