Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Lessons From a Snake (Part 1)

God often teaches me lessons using unexpected things. This is definitely the case with snakes. It still amazes me what He’s taught me through the most cursed creature in the Bible.

My first serpentine lesson came 24 years ago when I was pregnant with my first child. That’s when I discovered Luke, Chapter 11, verses 11-13. They read: “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!” (New International Version)

I found this passage shortly after deciding to make my Scripture reading easier. I would take the most obvious (to me) meaning to be true unless God showed me otherwise. When I read this passage in that light, it seemed to say that God didn’t give His children snakes. It may look like a snake, it may bite like a snake, but if it was brought into my life, God let it in and it couldn’t be a snake.

Simplistic, I know. But, looking back, it was the perfect way for me to interpret that Scripture. I realize now that the early years of my life were driven mostly by fear. So many things frightened me: rejection, failure, embarrassment…I spent a lot of time and energy avoiding anything that brought the least discomfort or pain. To me, everything looked like a snake. I saw bared fangs everywhere, ready to strike!

I also thought anything that caused me discomfort was bad or wrong. After all,
life’s much more pleasant when it doesn’t hurt or cause discomfort, right? So all you have to do is decide that anything that disrupts your pleasure or comfort is bad and should be avoided!

I learned the technique of using fear to guide my life’s actions from a great teacher: my mother. Her life was always full of snakes. Driven by fear, she saw snakes at every turn. Fear of rejection, fear of loss, fear of failure…you name a fear, and it probably manifested itself in her life. I watched her avoid as much unpleasantness as she could by labeling almost everything a “SNAKE!” I learned how to see the world from her.

I came across this Bible passage, which contradicted all that, just as I began a brand new phase of life. During my first pregnancy my husband worked a job that required a lot of travel. About a month before my son was born, my husband left on what was to be a simple one-week trip. But one problem led to another and that one week trip turned into a 3-week nightmare for him…and for me.

I was upset for him and all the stressful things that kept cropping up in his travels, but I was frightened and full of pity for myself. He was miserable on the road, but I was becoming more and more miserable handling everything at home. Every night I would hear frustration in his voice. Everywhere I looked, all I could see were masses of wriggling snakes.

It made no sense that God would allow all the things that kept happening to him on the trip. But what really was impacting me were all the things that kept lengthening his stay away from home. After all, everything that kept him away made my life more frightening and all I could do was yell, ”Snake!” Every time a flight was cancelled, every time a client’s system crashed, I kept remembering this passage and thinking, “It looks like a snake, but it CAN’T be a snake.” Every time I couldn’t sleep because of fearful dreams about my unborn child. Every time I had to clean another part of the house exhausted from carrying a growing baby inside, God reminded me of these verses. I can admit now that it was certainly not what I wanted to hear from Him!

Of course my husband eventually returned home safe and sound. Looking back on the situation now, I see just how minor the things that happened to us were. His trip did help him learn to cope with stressful, unexpected situations better. And I learned to get through things without him by my side. Those skills carried me through lots of nights alone with a sick child.

At the time I certainly wouldn’t have chosen this situation, but looking back I was right when I realized that it wasn’t a snake. It was just God, in His grace, teaching us both how to move from being self-absorbed to being child-absorbed.

Since then, I often remind myself that I can’t learn the lessons God has for me if I call everything a snake and run away. If I don’t hold my feet firm when life looks like a pit of snakes, I prevent His power from finding its way into my life.

I don’t know how many times since that first experience so long ago I’ve looked at life and said, “It sure feels like a snake, and hurts like snake, but it CAN’T be a snake!” It’s helped me get through so many tough times. I trust God to be my loving Father, just like the verse says. I’m going to take His word at face value. If God hands something to me, it CAN’T be a snake.

Later on in life, I was quite surprised to find that He’d gotten me to the point where He would actually tell me when it really WAS a snake. Like the picture at the top of this page; it's not a snake, it's a caterpillar.

But that’s another “Lesson From a Snake…”