Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life. [Psalm 139:23-24 (NLT)]
The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is? [Jeremiah 17:9 (NLT)]
Last week, my foot accidentally made unfortunate contact with an unmovable and incredibly hard piece of furniture. The intense jolt of pain that radiated from my toes through my foot caused words to come spewing out of this church lady’s mouth that had no business being there. While icing my bruised and swollen foot that evening, I recalled C.S. Lewis’ observation that provocation isn’t really what makes us “ill-tempered;” it simply shows us how ill-tempered we really are.
When our immediate response to something or someone is positive—the sort of thing Jesus would do—we’re more than willing to acknowledge our bravery, patience, compassion, or generosity. But, when our instant response to something (or someone) is less than stellar, rather than owning up to our sinfulness, we tend to blame the situation or other person. Justifying ourselves, it was the extenuating circumstance, problematic person, excessive demands (or table leg) that provoked, taxed, perturbed or goaded us into behavior unbecoming of a Christ follower. We, however, can’t have it both ways! Our emotions—our gut reactions, knee jerk responses, and unthinking words—reveal who and what we truly are deep inside.
In Mere Christianity, Lewis likens the sins that are usually revealed only when we’re taken by surprise to “rats in the cellar.” Not seeing the rats when we turn on the light and noisily stomp down the stairs doesn’t mean they’re not there. Most likely, those rats (like our hidden sins), will be seen only when they’re taken by surprise.
It isn’t life’s ambushes—the grueling day, a salesclerk’s rudeness, impossible deadlines, unreturned phone calls, a co-worker’s spitefulness, the vicious tweet, or even broken toes—that cause us to sin; those ambushes just reveal how sinful we actually are. When James and Peter wrote about considering our trials a reason for joy because they help us mature, I thought they were referring only to the significant and often long-lasting challenges of life. Lewis’s words made me consider that those trials include the small, often inconsequential, aggravations and vexations of life that come without warning. They are God’s way of shining a light on the rats in our cellars!
What a man does when he is taken off guard is the best evidence for what sort of man he is. [C.S. Lewis]