But all rats are not created equal. As I watch ours scamper about in her big blue ball, or peek out of her cage hoping for a cuddle and a treat, I remember another rat. Not a pet rat. Not a nice rat. A big, ugly, horrible rat that taught me a valuable lesson about life and living in God's freedom.
It happened like this:
“Oh, look at that cute squir . . .” The word died on my lips. It wasn’t a squirrel. And it wasn’t cute. There was no fuzzy tail. No sweet little pointed ears, no tiny paws filled with winter nuts. Instead, my gaze fixed on a long, bare tail and pointed nose. A rat. A chill tiptoed up my arms. It was a horrible, huge, grab-the-antibacterial-cleaner rat. A rat as big as a papa squirrel. And worse, it was darting back and forth along the outside wall of a brand-new restaurant. The restaurant at which my husband, Bryan, and I were planning to eat. Suddenly, I wasn’t so hungry anymore.
Bryan pulled our Explorer into a parking space, opened his door, and stepped out.
I didn’t move.
He paused and glanced at me. “Aren’t you coming?”
“Aaaruugh.” I made a sound in the back of my throat.
Bryan scowled. “What’s wrong? I thought you wanted to try this restaurant.”
I wrinkled my nose and pointed at the building. “Not a squirrel. Rat. Big, yucky rat.”
Bryan’s eyes turned to the building. “Woo-wee,” he whistled, “that’s a big one. Kinda turns your stomach, doesn’t it?”
He looks pretty fat and healthy. Must be eating well.”
Visions of rats munching leftovers in the restaurant’s kitchen pranced through my mind. Rats eating, and running, and leaving their droppings all over the counters. I shivered.
Bryan got back in his seat and shut the door. “Now what?”
For three long minutes we watched the rat scurry along the ledge of the building before it leapt into the bushes beneath.
“Uh, I think I’ve seen enough. How about Burger King?” I made a face and Bryan laughed.
“Burger King it is.”
For the next several days I thought about our rat-at-the-restaurant experience. I considered how one little (or not so little!) rodent had lost the restaurant a good customer. I thought about how the owner would be appalled to know that he had a rat running around his building. And I contemplated whether I’d ever be willing to eat at that restaurant (and decided “no way!”).
About the time I stopped thinking about the rat, God brought it to mind again. I was reading the familiar passage of Matthew 7:3-4 (NIV) where Jesus says, “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?” and mulling over my usual thoughts about the verse. Wouldn’t a guy notice a huge plank sticking out of his eye? You’d think something that big would be obvious. How could he live with that plank there anyway?
Then I remembered the rat. It, too, was huge, and awful, and obvious. At least to me. But not to the restaurant owner. Maybe sin is like that rat – obvious to everyone except the owner. Rats are supposed to be sneaky. Sin can be sneaky too. I gulped and wondered what kind of sin might be running around the ledges of my life, driving people away while I was oblivious to its presence. Did I have bitterness, unforgiveness, or selfishness scampering around and gnawing on the leftovers of my life? I suspected I might. If so, it was time to call the exterminator. It was time to ask Jesus to uncover and clean out the rat’s nests.
So, in these past weeks since my rat experience, I’ve been praying for God to do just that. And I’ve seen that I do have a few rats, a few planks, that must have been obvious to everyone but me. I saw that I get irritable and lash out when things go wrong. I noticed my impatience with my daughter. I detected sudden flares of bitterness that have no place in a God-lover’s heart. And I recognized that it’s much easier for me to find fault with others before I see it in myself. Just like the man in Jesus’ story.
As I’ve seen my own rodents, I’ve realized that God-the-exterminator has a lot of work to do at my restaurant. And I’m calling on Him to wipe out every last rat.