Scratching the Itch

It starts with little red bumps on my forearms, just above the wrists. At first they are so faint they seem to be beneath the skin. Untreated they rise above the surface and become dry, red patches.

All my life, I’ve had eczema. At its worst, in a flare, it spreads all over the place. The last time it was that bad, I found myself quite unconsciously rubbing my shoulder blades up and down a door jamb.

Job and the Missus (Jusepe de Ribera, 17th Century)
Job and the Missus (Jusepe de Ribera, 17th Century)

It felt awful enough that I thought of Job and his potsherds. The terrible itch came up from deep places; it needed digging out and scraping off.

The trouble is scratching makes the itch worse.

Before we launch into dozens of chapters of poetry, Job is a short story, a fable about a man coming to grips with undeserved suffering. He scrapes at his sores while sitting on the ash heap. When his wife comes to him and, in her own excruciating grief for the loss of their family, tells him to curse God and die, Job remains faithful.

I want to be that person. I strive to be that person, receiving even suffering with equanimity where God is concerned.

But sometimes I still end up rubbing my shoulder blades against the door jamb.

Here’s the thing: almost all suffering is undeserved; almost all suffering simply arises from the human condition. We have an auto-immune disorder. We lose the baby. The roads were slick. The other driver was drunk, or inexperienced, or simply driving too fast. Life itches, and scratching the itch hurts us more.

I remember Job when the little red bumps reappear. I smooth salve on my forearm. I breathe. I take the bad with the good. I pray for patience. I breathe again and try not to make things worse.

(A reflection on Job 1:1, 2:1-10. This is one of my reflections for The Abingdon Creative Preaching Annual for 2015, the project I’m working on right now.)

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