Home > Lessons I've Learned > Playing with Fire [***]

Playing with Fire [***]

When I was younger, between the ages of 7 and 10, I was fascinated by fire. I think I encountered fire for the first time when my grandmother allowed me to play with her large magnifying glass in the backyard. I am not sure if someone else showed me how to focus the sunlight in such a way as to cause intense heat or if I discovered it by accident, but I was quickly hooked. There was a steady supply of large ants and dry grass in her yard so I had a lot of fun burning things but also managed to avoid causing any significant damage. Over time, I discovered matches, the stove, and fireworks.

I have one younger brother named Daniel who is twenty months younger than I. He was often my partner in crime during my childhood.

When I was about 10 years old, Daniel and I plus a neighbor boy were playing with matches near our home. We were burning dry leaves and small pieces of paper and getting very excited. These small things, apparently, were not enough to adequately quench our desire to burn things. So, we looked around for something bigger and soon found a very old and dry Christmas tree that someone had set on top of their evergreen bushes right next to their home. Without paying regard to the proximity of the dried tree to a home, we decided that we had found the best thing to burn ever! So, we lit a small branch, let it burn for a few seconds, then blew it out. We lit another small branch, let it burn for a few more seconds, then blew it out. We repeated this a few times, each time letting the branch burn for a few seconds longer. I can still remember my excitement getting the better of me as I forbid the other two boys from blowing out a flame that had grown larger than all of the previous. It was a thing of beauty. It created noticeable heat and glowed with magnificent golden-red hues. Our glee was overcome by the need for safety and so we finally agreed to blow out the ever-increasing flame… but this time our breath not only failed to extinguish the fire, but it actually caused it to spread faster! The fire had grown beyond our control! Daniel was sent to fetch a cup or bucket full of water with which to fight the flames, but, by the time he returned, the entire tree was engulfed! The cup he returned with was puny in comparison. The bushes on which the tree rested and the home that was within inches of the flames were sure to become the fire’s next victims! The three of us stood helplessly watching in shock and awe. It was so beautiful and yet so capable of destruction at the same time. Fortunately for us, a man rode by on a motorcycle at just that moment. He grabbed the tree by its base and pulled it into the middle of the street. Realizing that the danger had likely passed but also that we had been caught, us boys scattered. The man on the motorcycle vanished almost as quickly as he had appeared, the tree eventually burned itself out, and the home was completely undamaged.

That evening, as our father’s arrival home from work approached, we knew that our judgment was coming. We had broken the rules and knew that we had to be punished. Indeed we were punished and punished severely. Perhaps that was the first time that I truly understood why rules existed and why we were punished when we broke them. Until that time I had seen rules as more of a killjoy than anything else. Until then, I truly thought that playing with fire was innocent fun. I had heard people warn about houses burning down and such, but I assumed that as long as I was careful and did not go too far everything would be just fine. I did not fully realize the power of fire and there was really only one way to find out… to experience it. In my quest for “fun”, I had to destroy something. I was very fortunate to have only destroyed an old tree. I almost destroyed someone’s home and all of the possessions held within it.

For the most part, rules don’t exist to stop us from having fun. On the contrary, they exist to keep us from hurting ourselves and others.

A few years after this incident, while I was still a boy, our family decided to add onto my grandmother’s house. To do so, they had to expand into the same backyard where I had first discovered fire via the magnifying glass. As part of the adding-on process, they had to remove an old tree stump from where the new family room was to be built. They collectively decided that the best way to remove the stump was to burn it. So they doused the stump with lighter fluid and lit it with a match. There was a live tree nearby and its green branches were within reach of the flames when the stump was first lit on fire! The flames subsided as the lighter fluid was consumed and so the adults added more fluid. The flames continued to rise and fall for some time as the adults added more fluid. I watched in horror. Eventually, they allowed the flames to die down since the stump had begun to glow red much like the charcoal of a lit BBQ. The adults then left the stump to burn and I was all alone with it. Unlike before, I had no desire to see this fire destroy anything. No, I wanted to ensure that it did not somehow spread and destroy something besides the stump.

What had changed in me? Had my punishment years before convinced me that fire could be destructive if misused? Had the persistent warnings and threats of my parents and other adults convinced me? Or had I learned a lesson through the experience itself? God is a rule maker. He created this universe and set its rules into motion (physics, gravity, etc.). He also gave us his written Word which, among other things, includes rules. Thousands of years ago, a man named Moses was given a list of ten commandments. Among these commandments were “do not murder” and “do not commit adultery”. Years later, Jesus elaborated on these commandments by stating that if you even think bad thoughts about someone, you are guilty of murder, and that if you think lustfully about a woman you have committed adultery with her in your heart. So, are the “do’s and don’ts” in God’s word there to keep us from having fun? Or does God want to protect us from experiencing destruction firsthand?

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