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For a while, we’re not sure just how long, there was a bad smell in our church. If the doors were open long enough, the offending odor dissipated, and so some people never noticed it at all. But one “scentsitive” boy whispered to his dad as they sat down together, “It smelled like poop when we walked into the church!”

I smelled it myself sometimes—a sharp whiff. I checked the garbage and looked under the chairs in the parents’ room in case a stray diaper had been missed. Nothing.

Last Saturday morning a few guys turned to each other and said, “Eeuwww, what’s that smell?” Then they called Tony, a plumber who attends our church. Tony’s first thought was, “Sewer gas getting past the P-traps downstairs?” A quick inspection, some water down each of the three floor drains, and problem solved. No more bad smell.

Of course! Any homeowner knows that one. Yet it took a call to Tony to take care of the problem.

All our stories fit into the great Story, I think. Even this one.

There are lots of “bad smells” we grow used to or just decide to live with. Let me suggest a few:

  • The smell of shame. This “smell” is so offensive to our olfactory glands that we may deny it is even in the air. We try to overcome the smell by pretending to be someone we are not, hiding our true selves from each other, from God, and even from ourselves. Sometimes, when we sense it in others, we reject or bully them or try to dump our own shame on them.
  • The smell of anxiety. No matter how many apps we download, we have no control over the most important things in our lives—like the decisions our kids make, for one. As parents we can be so “stinking” anxious that we get drawn into lifelong battles with our children, trying to prevent them from making mistakes—especially mistakes that might shame us. They may fight back with behaviors that are more and more destructive.

    As farm boys, neither I nor my friends thought that cows had any noticeable smell at all.

    The smell of hostility. This smell is so prevalent in our culture that we may not even recognize it. (As farm boys, neither I nor my friends thought that cows had any noticeable smell at all.) Hostility comes in many “flavors.” It can present itself in the way we cocoon ourselves from others, such as wearing earbuds so we can choose our own tunes over the voices of people around us. Hostility also often surfaces in the assumptions we make about other people.

What kinds of smells do you live with?

Paul has the best advice for dealing with these unpleasant odors: “Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Eph. 5:1-2). As we follow Christ together, he replaces our shame, anxiety, and hostility with confidence, faith, and hospitality.

Thanks, Tony!


The only true perfection available to us is the honest acceptance of our imperfection.

—Richard Rohr

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