“There was an old woman who swallowed a fly…I don’t know why she swallowed that fly…perhaps she’ll die!”
I have vivid memories of my dad singing that song to me as a kid. I was totally captivated by the idea of a woman who accidentally swallowed a fly trying desperately to remove it–by swallowing worse and worse things!
Each verse builds on itself until the woman has ingested an impossible and deadly smorgasbord of farm animals. In the end she swallows a spider to catch the fly, a bird to catch the spider, a cat to catch the bird, a dog to catch the cat and a cow to catch the dog. I’m not sure why the cow was sent after the dog but the imagery is worth the artistic license. The final line of the song is, “There was an old woman who swallowed a horse…she died of course!”. She may have survived the cow thing but a horse was just too much.
Most of us have had the nasty experience of swallowing a bug. It’s happened to me several times while riding a bicycle–that sickening thud as a big hairy insect comes hurtling at speed hitting the back of my throat before I even see it coming. There is a critical moment of panic when you realize you can’t cough the thing out, you just have to swallow it down.
From the story of the creation of Adam and Eve all humanity lives under the curse of sin. Every one of us has a giant hairy, caca-eating, iridescent green fly firmly lodged in our gut–so to speak. I carry sin in me and we all collectively carry sin together. When I start to think of all the ways we try to deal with sin in the world my dad’s song becomes almost prophetic.
There is a certain irony in the way I often work so hard to cover up my brokenness by adding to it. It happens when I’m feeling a lack of connection with my wife so I spend money I don’t have on things I don’t need which does not bring us closer together when she pays the bills at the end of the month. I see it when I become more rigid and legalistic in certain areas of my life to distract from my lack of grace and mercy in others. Why do I imagine I can fight sin with sin?
Jesus made it clear that the only way to resist and ultimately defeat sin is through vulnerability, self-sacrifice, forgiveness and, well…getting killed. With Jesus, sin wins. And then it dies. Fighting sin with sin only creates more sin. Jesus never asks us to fix ourselves. Instead he calls us to bring our sin to him, confess it to each other and embrace the truth that we can’t put things back together on our own. The problem is embracing the truth is difficult. Confessing sin and admitting failure is painful. David Foster Wallace said, “The truth will set you free. But not until it’s finished with you.”.
The road to wholeness, forgiveness and transformation runs directly through the painful process of giving up pride and shame–there is no other way. Trying to circumvent this process only results in less and less grace for ourselves and others. I want to be part of a church community that experiences the true healing and transformation–the kind that can only come by embracing our brokenness and trusting God’s Spirit to break our cycles of sin. I want to learn to see vulnerability as courage and mercy as strength so I can recognize the futility of isolation and the evil of legalism that erodes our humanity every day. We, together as the body of Christ, are how Jesus accomplishes this kind of change.
“You strain your water so you won’t accidentally swallow a gnat, but you swallow a camel!”