"...did not intend to hurt..."
"Or suppose that, without looking, you throw a stone that kills someone whom you did not intend to hurt and who was not your enemy... You are guilty only of manslaughter..." (Numbers 35:23-25)
We spotted him last August as he scurried in and out of the furnace exhaust pipe on the outside of the church sanctuary. He was a cute little chipmunk frenetically moving about and was quickly dubbed, "Chester." We left him a few nuts to munch, went about our business, and saw very little of him during the rest of the summer. He remained a pleasant, humorous memory... until...
A couple of weeks ago I walked into the sanctuary before a scheduled event only to discover that on one of the coldest days of the year the temperature in the room was hovering at a mere 55 degrees. After several attempts at resetting circuit breakers and the replacement of the furnace filter the digital thermostat held fast at 55. Only later when one of the trustees went outside to check the exterior part of the heating unit did he discover the cause of the heating failure. Cute little Chester had filled the exhaust tube with rocks. He only meant to form a barrier for protection. He never "meant" to cause such back pressure in the system that he would shut it down... but he did. Suddenly Chester wasn't quite so cute.
The passage from Numbers in the Old Testament attests to the fact that we put a lot of emphasis on "meaning" or "intent." Some of our laws today carry the same distinction. I can hear the response of a child when confronted with an indiscretion, "But I didn't mean to hit her with the rock," hoping that intent might make the difference in the punishment.
Too many times I've heard adults arguing with one another in the same way. The first says something like, "It really hurt when you stepped on my foot and broke it," and the second replies, "Yeah but I didn't mean to do it!" The second hopes their lack of intent to step on the others' foot might somehow make things better. Regardless of intent, the foot still hurts.
We all have a little Chester in us. Even when we're not meaning to hurt another, we wind up hurting each other. It seems important that we do at least two things. First, we live carefully and gently, always mindful that all of our actions in some way or another have an impact on others. Second, when we do hurt another (even though we don't mean to do it) we take care to hear the others' pain, ask for forgiveness, and make note to do our best to learn from the situation so we don't repeat the same hurtful mistake.
I don't expect Chester to learn anything from his mistake. Given the chance, he'll go back to moving rocks into the pipe, so instead, the trustees changed the pipe entrance. However, I do pray that God will help me learn from my mistakes and be more careful and intentional about living with others so I don't hurt them even when I don't mean to. How about you?
Blessings and Peace,
Pastor, Sand Hill United Methodist Church
Boaz, West Virginia
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"...did not intend to hurt..."