Saturday, May 16, 2015

A Thought That Festers

While recently watching a re-run of a West Wing episode, I was struck by a comment, meant humorously in the setting of the story, made by the character of the president. Someone made a mildly critical comment to him, and the president wryly replied:

"Now there's a thought that is going to fester."

In that setting, it was funny; but it started me thinking about the times I have allowed a thought to fester.  That word itself is a little odd and old-fashioned.  You just don't hear it used very often these days, mostly I would guess, because few things actually "fester" today as they once did. 

To fester:  to generate pus, suppurate, to infect, decay, rot, to irritate and inflame, to corrupt.

Well, That's pretty clear.  Allowing something to fester is never a good thing.  Fortunately, with modern topical antibiotic ointments, for minor cuts and burns, and powerful intravenous antibiotics, for major infections, we now rarely see a bodily wound actually fester.  Thankfully.

Unfortunately, being the wayward humans that we are, we have made far less progress in the area of spiritual infections, than we have those which are physical.

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You are such a goody-two shoes!  (That one festered for quite awhile. Although it was tossed at me in the high school cafeteria, many ages ago, simply because I dared to speak up for someone who was not part of the "in" crowd, it continued to irritate me for years.)

You really do carry those extra pounds pretty gracefully.  (Uttered with a smirk by someone who was lean as a greyhound. That rankled for a bit.)

You have let me down. (Now that one, not only devastated me at the time, it has haunted me since.)

We each have a recollection of some such verbal barbs that have been thrown our way, like poison-tipped darts, and instead of immediately flushing out the poison, cleansing the wound, and dealing with the hurt, we have often chosen to let the thought fester.

And it is not just the words others have sent our way, it is also the thoughts we have had toward others, that may fester within our hearts.  Jeremiah wrote, "The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked."  Or to put it in more modern vernacular, we can "get a good mad on" over almost any little thing that hits us wrong.

We see someone glance away as we approach to speak with them, and then watch as they engage in cheerful conversation with someone else.  As we feel our ego deflate, we edge back in another direction, so that it will not be quite so obvious that we have just been snubbed.

The rest of the day, whenever the incident comes to mind, we simmer, just a little.  Oh, well, who cares?  It is not as if we are really that close. But we simmer, and the thought festers.

The next morning, over coffee, we think about making a quick phone call, just to check in; but then we remember that other glance, and think, maybe this person would rather not talk to us either.  So we put the phone down, without making the call.  And now the thought begins to heat up, inflame, not just simmer.

Perhaps when we next see the offender (for that is how we now think of them) we make sure we make eye contact, and then we deliberately turn away before they can approach us to say "hello", as we are making a point.  I don't need you. And there we are.

How to reach "fester" in three easy steps.  Interpret (or mis-interpret) someone's actions.  Think about it negatively several times over a period of time.  Actively (or passively) retaliate at the next opportunity.  Festering in full blossom.  Except the blossom stinks.  Putrid.  Remember, to fester is to produce pus, the dictionary tells us.  Putrefaction.  Yuck.

How did we get here?

Hebrews (12:15) tells us that we should be "looking diligently" (KJV) or in the NIV it says, 

See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.

Or as the Message version puts it:

Keep a sharp eye out for weeds of bitter discontent.  A thistle or two gone to seed can ruin a whole garden in no time.
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We have all known bitter people, those who spend their irritable days and their discontented nights dwelling on those who got the breaks, those whose children are well and strong, those who make a lot of money, those who .... whatever it is that they secretly are roiling about.  And those thoughts have festered to the point that even those who care about them find it difficult to spend much time in their company.

A thought that is going to fester.  We all encounter them from time to time.  Whatever it is, I urge you, don't let it.  Whatever we allow to fester in our hearts, will eventually kill ...  not the thing or the person we resent, but us.  Festered wounds can kill the body.  Festered thoughts can kill the spirit.  

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Regarding negative or evil thoughts, Martin Luther famously said:
I cannot keep the birds of the air from flying over my head; but I can keep them from building a nest in my hair.

Hope nothing is bothering you today, much less festering.  Meanwhile, I'm checking my own head for any unwanted nests that may be lurking up there.  Until next time, your not-so-fine-feathered friend ~ Marsha


  1. No festering going on at the moment, but I'm surely been guilty of it too often. Good words!

  2. Mari, Glad to hear it. We surely don't want to be mouldering around, do we? :)

  3. Well, I've certainly had my share of festering moments, but thankfully, not any lately. What a lovely, inspiring post and so, so true!!

    1. Lea,
      And haven't we all had our share of those thoughts? Glad none are hanging around at the moment. Good for you. Thanks so much for your comment.

  4. One of the things I still love about reading blogs are seeing ourselves in another's words. We are all so different and so much the same. This was so well written Marsha, a reminder for all of us.

    1. Sonja,
      Always so nice to hear from you. And "Seeing ourselves in another's words" - just tells me that we are all more alike than we are different. :) Blessings - Marsha

  5. Marsha, you have so eloquently captured Truth in this post. Fester is a great word - for it conjures up all the ugly ways that something just brews and breeds within us. Bitterness comes to mind. A hurt can fester deep within, and bitterness is the ugliness that ensues, poisoning us.

    I've had many hurtful things said and done to me, and yes, sometimes I allow them to fester. And sometimes, just as they begin to heal, I have a tendency to *pick at the scab* and make it all hurt again - also not helpful.

    God is the Great Healer - but we have to allow Him to do His work. And sometimes that work includes painfully digging into the depths of our pain, and carving out the ugly stuff.