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What’s That Smell?!

It’s funny how smells can trigger various emotions and thoughts. You detect a certain odor, and your mind immediately flies to a memory of a person, an event, or a substance. A former teacher’s perfume. A steamy apple pie fresh from the oven. A smelly, stale, sweat-saturated locker room. An old elementary school classroom. Fresh cut pine lumber. A skunk that is now roadkill.

My mind turned to thinking about odors while I was shampooing my hair during my shower. I began to think of all the odors that we humans pile on ourselves just in our normal routine of getting ready to face the day ahead.

There’s the odor of the mouthwash we gargle to rid our mouths of overnight halitosis, the scent of the shampoo we lather on our pate, and the aroma of the bath soap we use. Then there’s the essence of the underarm deodorant we swipe on after we’ve dried. The scent of the hairspray we use to hold our curls in place. And the fragrance of the perfume, cologne, or aftershave lotion we slosh on. The toothpaste we use to brush our teeth. And that’s all before we leave the bathroom!


We then add more smells as we drink our coffee, tea, or other breakfast drink. And each of the foods we eat has a distinct odor. And as the day progresses, those foods and beverages digesting in our stomachs create even more odors. The mints on which we suck or the gum we chew to cover those other oral odors also has a distinct smell. And our feet when we remove our shoes at the end of a long day. We won’t go there! And then there’s the garlic-infused pasta we have for supper.

We Americans, perhaps more than any other people, are obsessed with how we smell. (Well, most of us are anyway!) We don’t want to offend anyone with offensive odors that emanate from us, so we disguise them or cover them up with other, more pleasing odors. (At least they’re pleasing to us, and we hope they will be to others.)

Is it any wonder that pets are so intent on sniffing us out whenever they encounter us?! We are walking repositories of every odor imaginable!

The concept of smells and odors even influences the terminology we use. If something isn’t up to our standards or displeases us in some way, we might say, “That stinks!” Or if we walk into the kitchen where a savory meal is being prepared or we hug our spouse and get a whiff of the cologne or perfume, we instinctively say, “Ummm!” and a smile comes to our face.


The same principle holds true with our writing. All writing has an odor. Sometimes it’s pleasing. At other times it simply stinks! Our job as writers is, through careful composition and precise editing, to so craft our words that they emit a pleasing smell, an odor that makes the readers say, “Ummm! That’s good!” Sometimes our words are pleasant, producing a smile or a laugh. But sometimes we also must communicate a message that is sharp and pointed, pricking the readers’ consciences and goading them to corrective actions. But we should still strive to present that message as kindly and as lovingly as possible.

Beyond even our writing efforts, we must be concerned about our lives generally. Sometimes, through no fault of our own, things happen that cause us to stink. For example, if, in taking out the trash on a dark night, you have a too-close encounter with a skunk and get sprayed, you’ll stink for sure! But most of the time, if our life stinks, it’s because of something we’ve done to ourselves through haste, anger, poor judgment, or lack of proper information. That we can control. We should always be striving to make our lives such that make the Creator God say of us, “Ummm! They smell good to me!”

The Old Testament frequently refers to the sacrifices of God’s people as being a “sweet-smelling savour” in God’s nostrils. He found pleasure in them. But in other places, it says that He will not perceive their sacrifices as “sweet-smelling” but as stenches in His nostrils because they were presenting their sacrifices in hypocrisy or merely going through the motions without any real understanding or concern for the deeper meanings behind them.

The New Testament says that faithful believers are “unto God a sweet savour of Christ” (2 Cor. 2:15). Their prayers have the aroma of incense to God (Rev. 8:3).

That’s the “smell” that I want both my writing and my life to have! A sweet savour, not a stench.

How about you?

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