The scene from Indiana Jones: The Last Crusade in which Indy swims through a sewer teeming with rats as he explores the catacombs beneath the streets of Venice permanently scarred me with rat fear as child. Mom, when you read this post please don't blame yourself for letting me watch the movie. I think the fear was destined to eventually develop. I couldn't find the entire scene on YouTube, but if you go to 9:46 in this video you should get the gist of it.
Since moving to Baltimore, my rat phobia has improved significantly. It turns out that they are afraid of me and are not going to crawl up on me and gnaw my eyeballs out or give me the Bubonic Plague. I used to recoil in fear even if I just saw a rat even a block away. Now, I would just rather avoid taking the trash to the back alley at night, but I don't freak out every time I see a rat.
A few weeks ago, I had a large rat problem (in both the size of the rats and the scope of the problem) that I needed to deal with. There are rats in our neighborhood, that is just a fact of living in most areas of Baltimore. The piles of construction materials from the renovation occurring next door and the trash in the yard of the house owned by a negligent landlord two houses down haven't aided the situation. Unfortunately, I had also been making my own contribution.
It all started a few years ago when I built a 12 foot by 4 foot raised garden bed out of cinder blocks in our backyard. We filled the bed with about a foot of rich soil from Baltimore County. Unfortunately, our yard ended up being too shady for crop production and the garden bed went unused, except as a place for our chickens to take their dust baths. Last year, I wanted to move our rabbit hutch from its location near the back of our house to the fenced back half of the yard where the chickens reside. The only place to set the hutch was on top of the garden bed. I knew that I would need to rat proof this area, but the school year started and the project slid off the to-do list.
As a result, the rats found a lovely home for themselves in the dirt beneath and behind the rabbit hutch. Summer finally provided some time to tackle this problem. I asked my parents for birthday money to fund the supplies (anyone else asking for rat proofing supplies for their birthday?) and set to the task. As I worked, I reflected upon how the inhabitance of rats in my rabbit hutch parallels the presence of rats in our lives.
Before I share my reflections, I want to preface them with a couple of points. First, we all have rats in our lives, by which I mean attitudes of the heart, thoughts of the mind, or habitual actions that are not pleasing to God. The Bible says there is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:22-23). No matter how saintly we may appear on the outside, we all have rats that lurk hidden within. Second, I am writing this first as an examination and exhortation to myself. Jesus warns, "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?" (Matthew 7:3-4). This could be paraphrased as do not point out the rats in others' lives and pay no attention to the ROUS in your own life (ROUS = Rodent of Unusual Size...sorry to the readers not in a generation influenced by Princess Bride references. You can see a ROUS for yourself in this clip if you like).
As a result, I am primarily going to speak vaguely about specific types of rats that appear in our lives, except when it is necessary to be more explicit to communicate effectively. I will speak directly about some of the rats in my life, most notably anxiety and pride. Mostly, I will allow the Holy Spirit to speak to each person about the rats they want to expunge from their own lives. With those preliminaries aside, let's talk about how to get rid of some rats!
1) Don't invite rats in
Let's be honest. I basically rolled out the red carpet leading to a rat honeymoon suite: a foot of loose soil perfect for burrowing, cover and protection provided by the hutch, and bits of rabbit feed falling from the cages. It's no wonder there were rat tunnels all through the garden bed. Luckily, I saved myself some embarrassment by forgetting to take a before picture to share with you. When I went out to start the project, I told Becky, "Don't be alarmed if you hear screams." I knew what I had brought on myself.
Unfortunately, we sometimes invite rats into our lives by the movies or TV that we watch, the music we listen to, or the situations that we place ourselves in. Anxiety burrows into my life when I invite it in by dwelling on a situation or obsessively searching the internet for some nugget of information or development that might help improve the current state of affairs. I also struggle with pride. I love documentaries about current issues that I am passionate about, however, if I am not careful, watching them can lead me to think that I am superior to anyone who does not share my views.
I am not saying that we should all retreat to a monastic lifestyle and live as hermits. Jesus prayed that Father God would not take [his disciples] out of the world but he also said that they are not of the world (John 17:15-16). We can not consume everything that the world has to offer and expect to not digest the things the world values.
2) To force out the rats, you need to dig deep
The first step in my rat proofing strategy was to excavate all the soil from the garden bed. In order to get rid of the rats, I had to remove the medium for their digging and all the trash they brought along with them. I needed to dig down to remove the root cause of the rodent invasion and get down to a solid foundation.
In the same way, we need to dig down into the inner workings of our heart, soul, and mind to determine what is attracting rats into our lives. At its root, I am anxious because I do not trust the promises of God or the goodness of God. Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well. Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom (Luke 12:27-32).
At its root, I am prideful because I would rather exalt in my achievements and greatness than the achievements and greatness of God. I would rather receive praise from men than give all glory to God. I forget the words of the psalmist: Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked (Psalm 84:10).
Rooting out rats in our lives is not easy. It requires honest introspection and faith that God will beneficially prune these dead branches in our lives if we willingly draw near to him. Jesus said, "I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful." (John 15:1-2).
3) Protect against future invasions
During our first summer in our house, we started keeping chickens, our first venture into urban livestock. I read a couple of books in preparation and extensively researched chicken coop designs. I spent weeks building a rat proof chicken fortress, preventing burrowing by burying hardware cloth one foot deep all around the perimeter of the coop. For the most part, rats have not been able to penetrate my defenses.
The original rabbit hutch had no such protections, but rabbit hutch 2.0 does. I laid hardware cloth over the bottom surface of the garden bed and sealed every possible seam with concrete. I also fortified sections of the hutch with the same treatment. Afterwards, I only returned a few inches of soil back to the hutch so that there would not be enough dirt for burrowing. After several weeks, I have not seen any evidence of rats burrowing under the hutch. I plan to construct a hardware cloth reinforced covering for the front of the hutch to add even more protection.
|Hardware cloth along the foundation of the hutch and any possible opening, along with concrete on every seam, should hopefully keep my furry little friends at bay.|
A) Claim the superior promises of God
A lot of people view Christianity as just a bunch of rules that you need to follow to be a good person. Often, these "rules" are viewed as restrictive and basically a drag on enjoying life. Given the way that the church has often legalistically fought against rats, it is easy to understand how this perception developed. However, as the Apostle Paul shared with the Colossians, these rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence (Colossians 3:22-23).
I am not promoting licentiousness or saying that God does not call us to pursue holiness, but I believe the best way to fight rats is not by trying to follow a set of rules, an effort that is often in vain, but by pursuing that which is superior and infinitely more satisfying, namely pursing the presence of God. I am indebted to Kevin DeYoung, my college pastor, for giving me a weapon that has repeatedly triumphed over the rat of lust: Blessed are the pure in heart for they will see God (Matthew 5:8). I flee from lustful thoughts because I want to see God - something better and more beautiful than any fleeting glance or thought.
B) Worship God
When we worship God, whether singing praise to his name, reading his word, or simply living in a worshipful state throughout ordinary daily tasks, we receive two benefits. First, we are drawn into God's presence in which we are transformed. And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:18). Second, in worshiping God we experience the greatness of God and recognize that being with God is better than any pleasure a rat may offer.
C) Seek accountability
We need each other. As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another (Proverbs 27:17). Find someone in your life who you can honestly share the rats that your are struggling with. When anxiety creeps into my life, openly sharing this struggle with Becky or members of our small group from church makes it much easier to take next steps to strengthen my faith and kick the rat out of my life.
Unfortunately, rats are persistent little buggers and they reproduce at a remarkable rate. We won't be able to eliminate rats from the physical world. I am pretty sure they would survive the apocalypse without any problem. However, we can take actionable steps to remove them from our lives. My hutch is better without them. Our lives our better without them.