Getting Rid of the Bugs in Your Soul: Thoughts on Search Me, O God

In my old apartment, I had great success growing basil plants. I had purchased a few small plants at the Montclair Historical Society’s annual herb sale. By the time it came for me to move out of my apartment, those little plants had grown. They then filled four giant flower pots, producing beautiful, gigantic leaves. I’d used them for all kinds of dishes. Seasoning for homemade spaghetti sauce, chicken and basil, you name it. I had so much basil that I even started putting basil in things that probably would have been a bit better off without basil.

Sadly, when I moved out of the apartment, I had to figure out what to take and what not to. The big flower pots of basil were the first to go. (I had not yet grasped the concept of making and freezing pesto).

When I moved into my new apartment, one of the first orders of business was to get basil plants again. So I went to a nursery and bought two little basil plants again. While I was at it, I decided to start my own little indoor herb garden. At one point, I even had my own “Scarborough Fair” (parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme).

It started out well enough. I did make myself some very good pesto, and mixed it up a bit. One night I had it with rigatoni, the next with fettucine. It was, to put it mildly, quite yummy.

A few days ago, I got ready to make another big batch of pesto. But I noticed something. There were big blotches on the leaves. I had a mint plant which had almost completely died, because the leaves were brown. It seemed that this had spread to the basil. I was a bit confused, because I water them just right, and they get the right sunlight.

Needless to say, no pesto for me. I picked off the offending leaves and threw them away. What was left was a lonely stalk with a few leaves left.

I looked carefully at one of the leaves, and noticed a tiny brown speck underneath one of the leaves. It was the size of a piece of dust. I used my finger to nudge it, and it moved. It was a pretty revolting experience.

I went onto Google, and searched for ‘brown blotches basil bug’. What I found was more information that I could possibly have wanted to know about a little thing called a “spider mite”.

A spider mite, it seems, is a tiny little bug that sucks the juices out of leaves. It’s very common in indoor plants, and it’s very hard to spot, because it does its dirty business on the underside of leaves. Gone untreated, the mites suck and suck and suck until the leaves are completely brown and unusable. Yes, spider mites suck.

To find them, one Web site said to put a white piece of paper under the plant and shake the plant. I tried that and surely enough, I got a result worse than a bad Head and Shoulders commercial. Dozens of little mites fell onto the paper, creeping and crawling around. Some were just the size of pinheads. Others were green, having gorged themselves on basil juice.

I collected all my plants, and proceeded to the kitchen sink. I doused each plant in water. It was strangely satisfying to imagine the tiny little screams of all those spider mites. Afterwards, I made a mixture of my own insecticide from household soap. I sprayed each leaf, above and below. The Web site said to do this every four days.

After spraying, I examined the plants a bit more. There were still stragglers—left on the plant, they would multiply and multiply. I even saw one little spider mite hiding inside the crevices of two leaves. I got the bottle and gave him a nice jolt of soapy water.

I thought about it, as I am wont to do. In terms of our spiritual lives, sin works kind of the same way as these little spider mites.

Psalm 1 talks about the type of person we should all aspire to be. A man who “walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers”. A man whose “delight is in the law of the Lord.” The Psalm goes on to say that such a man is like a tree, planted by streams of water, bearing fruit in its season. His leaf doesn’t wither. In all he does, he prospers.

The wicked, the psalmist goes on, are like chaff. Dead, dried out leaves.

Sin is one of those things that you can’t always tell is infesting you. But little sins add up. And pretty soon, you find yourself far away from that ideal of a green tree. Your leaves and your fruit are infested. The life is sucked out of them, and they dry out and die. You’re really not good for anything anymore. Your work for the kingdom becomes completely unproductive, your relationships turn sour very easily, and you find yourself more and more inundated with stress, and guilt, and anger, and despair. No, you really never do equate those things with “sin”, because there’s not an obvious cause-and-effect relationship between the two.

But sin is very often exactly what causes those negative things. Because sin separates us from God. When sin latches on to our souls, like so many of those little spider mites, they just suck the life out of us. They make it so we can’t be productive.

What’s the solution then? Same as for my basil plants.

The first thing is to admit it. I could have gone for weeks and months just watering my plants and ignoring the little brown blotches. But eventually, the complete plant would have been destroyed. No, I had to shake it in front of a white piece of paper and see what drops out. The same is true of your soul. Anyone who claims to be without sin, so the good book goes, is only fooling himself. There are sins of omission and sins of commissions. Left inside you, they fester, and suck the life out of you.

Second, douse yourself in the kitchen sink. Baptism is the way to clear yourself of the spider mites of your soul. But even more important than the physical act of baptism is that pledge—the pledge of a good conscience. The pledge that says you’re not going back.

Third, keep shaking out your leaves to make sure the spider mites don’t return. They will try. They will attack your most vulnerable leaves, and hide deep where they think no one will find them. For my basil plants, every few days, I’d shake them out on top of white paper. And sure enough, mites would fall out. But as the weeks went by, the number of mites got to be less and less as I kept shaking and spraying.

Don’t let even one spider mite live. The moment you are tempted to sin, tell yourself—I don’t want to get to the point again where my leaves are brown and blotchy and unusable for anything.

Sure enough, after a while, new leaves sprouted, and they were rich and green and thick. I have a little bit of time yet before I can start harvesting them, but the day will come when I’ll again be able to enjoy pesto and spaghetti sauce and all kinds of good stuff.

I wish the same were true of my mint plant. I had a lot of plans for that mint plant. When it was new, the leaves smelled so nice. I figured I’d use them in cooking, making jelly, or whatever else it is that they use mint for. But that didn’t happen. Eventually, I had to take the plant, dirt and all, and throw it into the garbage. Because it just wasn’t useful anymore. The leaves were completely brown, and the underside of the leaves were covered with spider mites.

I hope that never happens to my basil plants. Basil can be used for so many things. So can you and I.
Search me, O God,
And know my heart today;
Try me, O Savior,
Know my thoughts, I pray.
See if there be
Some wicked way in me;
Cleanse me from every sin
And set me free.

I praise Thee, Lord,
For cleansing me from sin;
Fulfill Thy Word,
And make me pure within.
Fill me with fire
Where once I burned with shame;
Grant my desire
To magnify Thy Name.

Lord, take my life,
And make it wholly Thine;
Fill my poor heart
With Thy great love divine.
Take all my will,
My passion, self and pride;
I now surrender, Lord
In me abide.

O Holy Spirit,
Revival comes from Thee;
Send a revival,
Start the work in me.
Thy Word declares
Thou wilt supply our need;
For blessings now,
O Lord, I humbly plead.