Sometimes we think we’re so righteous.
Sometimes we think there are things we wouldn’t do.
But often it’s not because we’re so good that we don’t yield to more temptation but because our experiences are so limited, so sheltered, so privileged.
I thought about that the day I tried to kill our lizards.
One of my kids, I will not name her in this post but you can guess which one she is, had a relentless desire for house pets. One of her parents, I will also not name his name in this post but you’ll get the idea, was no match for her pout in the pet store. (The other parent, ME, wisely avoided entering all pet stores with said child.)
We had two cats which were wonderful creatures. We’d also had a poodle who was not. He smelled. He barked. He howled. And he didn’t like to pee outside when it rained (or was cloudy, damp, or slightly humid). Anyway, we’d lucked out one February night when he disappeared (I mean, sadly, one February night, he disappeared.)
We were in pet loss recovery when this child’s OTHER parent thought a stroll through the pet shop might move her grieving process along.
Oh, it moved all right. Right into an expensive and tedious relationship with an aquarium full of anoles.
Have you ever cared for an anole?
They are tiny lizards that look kind of cute until you learn they’re more high maintenance than rare orchids. They require one kind of special heat lamp by day and then a different type of heat lamp by night. They need their environment “spritzed” with filtered water several times a day. Their entire aquarium needs to be changed and cleaned regularly.
To top it off, they live on live crickets. Yes, that’s right. We bought pets to feed to our pets – which also requires regular trips to the pet store which must be avoided with one particular small member of our family who seemed to have been directly descended from Noah.
Anyway, little Miss Noah Jr. loves animals but she tires quickly of the actual care and maintenance of said pets. And, of course, the parent who indulges her at pet stores worked a full-time job so the parent who knew better than to drag her into pet stores was left with the day in and day out care of this crew of lizards.
Day and night. Night and day. Change the light. Clean the cage. Spritz the cage. Buy the crickets. Feed the anoles. Change the light. Clean the cage. Spritz the cage. Buy the crickets. Feed the anoles. This endless ritual was tagged onto caring for actual humans who also needed daily care, cleaning and feeding, homeschooling and caring for two cats.
Sometimes I comforted myself with the thought that every pet dies. How long can anoles live, after all?
A really long time apparently.
After months and months (and oh, the miraculous return of our smelly, high strung poodle after four months missing! My cup runneth over), I found myself casually Googling the life expectancy of anoles, potential diseases, their causes, etc.
Then, after even the pet loving child stopped staring into the aquarium, moving on as she had with the miracle dog’s return, I started doing not as thorough a job of cleaning the cage and found myself buying sub-standard crickets from a kid on the corner. I spritzed less often. But the hardy anoles seemed to thrive on my neglect.
I noticed the cats seemed fascinated with the lizards so occasionally I left the wire top slightly askew but apparently our cats were so pampered and lazy that the effort of hunting for food had been completely bred out of them. (Hey, we could have done a homeschool unit on the food chain!)
Finally, I found myself one morning leaning over the mesh wire covering of the aquarium holding a can of Raid. “One good long spray”, I thought to myself, “how bad could it be? They’re just lizards, after all. They’ve had a good life. Probably better than most lizards. And no one will ever know.”
“Mom, what are you doing? That’s not the water spray bottle?” Caught in the act, poised in position to murder.
“Oops. Silly me. You’re right. Heh, heh. Just a little mistake there.”
I think I’m so tough and so principled but apparently I can be broken simply by having to care for a tank of thankless lizards for a few months.
Sometimes we think we’re so righteous but maybe we’ve just been so safe and secure for so long, we haven’t run up against a wall of temptation that seemed like the only way out.
There is a verse in Psalm 125 of the Songs of Ascent that says this: “The scepter of the wicked will not remain over the land allotted to the righteous, for then the righteous might use their hands to do evil.”
The righteous can only suffer evil for so long before they are tempted to use their own hands to do evil.
I try to remember that when I hear about choices other people make – people who live in conditions far different from mine. People who have bigger problems than demanding pets.
Sin is sin is sin and deserves the Lord’s judgment. But, before I judge someone else’s sin, I ask myself what I would do if I lived in their situation. Without the Lord’s help, would I make better choices?
I think about that moment (and many others far worse) when I would happily have committed reptile-icide if I hadn’t been caught and I thank Jesus for His presence in my life. I pray the Lord’s prayer “lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.”
The anoles eventually died. The poodle lived on and on and on. And I continued to pray the Lord’s prayer, especially when that OTHER parent brought home a gift for the child who was grieving her last anole– surprise! – Guinea pigs! (I wish I was making this stuff up!)