“It’s not permitted, but it is tolerated.”
That was the response I received one day from a passing policeman in Monaco when I asked if it was OK to park in the spot I had chosen. My first reaction: “What an odd thing to say. If it isn’t permitted, why is it tolerated?”
But that phrase has stayed with me these last 20 years, and I’ve come to realize that the concept is not as foreign to me as I like to pretend. “It’s not permitted, but it is tolerated.” How many times in a week do I tolerate in myself that which I would not permit? How many prideful or angry thoughts, how many harsh words, how many lustful lingerings of the eyes, how much labeling and categorizing and stereotyping of others do I shrug at in my personal life? If you were to ask me “Are these permitted?” I would say no. Of course not. I’m a Christian, after all.
But sadly, they ARE tolerated. I know, because I’m the one that tolerates them. If I didn’t, there wouldn’t be so many of them. That needs to change.
But how do I cultivate a new, less-tolerant mindset toward that which I do not (and my God does not) permit? What exactly needs to change? I think the solution is found in my daughter’s reaction to a stomach-churning moment during a meal last month.
I had brought home a take-out order from a local restaurant, and Minnie eagerly started in on her plate of hot and creamy macaroni and cheese. Her eagerness disappeared however, along with her appetite, with the discovery of … wait for it … a HAIR in the macaroni! She held it up, with globs of cheese dangling from it, and said with a disgusted look, “Dad, it’s long, so it’s not even mine.”
I know. Gross, right?
You know what DIDN’T happen next? No one in the room said “Well, at least there’s only ONE hair.” Minnie didn’t set it aside, shrug, and say “I guess these things happen.” Who does that? No, we called the restaurant to complain, they offered to reimburse the cost of all three meals, and they invited me to come back to get a new order of macaroni and cheese (yes, I checked before leaving the restaurant – it was hairless).
No one tolerates hair in their macaroni and cheese. No one excuses it with thoughts like “EVERYbody has a little hair in their pasta.” No one says “Well, the chef made the meal this way, so it must be OK.” We are profoundly INtolerant, and even hostile, to the very idea of hair in our food.
Driving home from the restaurant, it dawned on me that God sees sin in the same way that we see hair in macaroni, and that we need to do the same. I need to move my sin into that category – especially the sins that have hung around a while, the ones that have been tolerated for so long that they seem to be part of me. I need a holy disgust with that which offends my holy God. And I need to remind myself regularly that His forgiveness does not equal His approval.
“You shall be holy, for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16). There are positive and negative sides to growth in personal holiness: “Do more of THIS. Do less of THAT.” I think it might help to view the negative side of holiness as “Stop throwing hair in your macaroni and cheese.”
That is sound advice that I plan to take to heart. Feel free to join me.
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