Speak of the Devil
by Audrey Stallsmith
My niece has been taking care of a baby starling, which recently escaped its box, leaving her unable to find it. At lunchtime, however, some of us heard a dreadful shrieking coming from the living room. Jumping up from the kitchen table, we spied one of our cats carrying the squawking missing bird in her mouth.
We launched ourselves at the cat so vehemently that she veered into the kitchen, dropped the starling, and retreated beneath the table. Miraculously enough, the bird wasn’t hurt. The whole incident proved, however, that our enemies always can find us.
Just as a cat had no trouble sniffing out a lost bird, demons have no trouble scenting humans who have gotten “lost” in a life which didn’t turn out as they thought it would. That happened to the Nigerian-born hero of Concussion, a book I just completed, about a doctor who fell into depression after he found that the U. S. wasn’t the paradise he’d expected it to be.
He persevered through that depression to become a forensics specialist who proved that repeated concussions can cause permanent brain damage in football players. But even that didn’t bring him the acclaim it should have. Instead, he found himself fighting the football establishment, which attempted to discredit him rather than admit the truth of his findings. Not to mention other people who seemed to want to take credit for those findings.
I’m guessing that life doesn’t turn out as expected for most of us. No doubt that baby starling never anticipated that it would end up being fed by a young human rather than by its mother. So its apprehension kept it quiet until a more immediate danger forced it to yell for help.
Back when I was a young college student, I expected that I eventually would make enough money from my writing to pay my parents back for my education and quit my other jobs. That hasn’t happened.
I know I mustn’t let disappointment turn into bitterness, however. That’s when demons may start talking to me or anyone else in my situation—as the serpent did to Eve—about what God unfairly is keeping from us. After all, we paid our dues. We did everything we were supposed to, so why hasn’t our success showed up?
In Walking with God, John Eldredge points out that we need to ask ourselves where such thoughts come from. It usually doesn’t occur to most of us Christians to see those complaints as temptations to doubt God. So we often are inclined to entertain rather than expel those thoughts, wallowing in our self-pity.
After all, we don’t talk much about the devil and his minions these days. Perhaps we assume that, as the old saying says, if we speak of him he is more likely to appear. But ignoring his existence doesn’t make him go away. Whether we want to acknowledge it or not, we are at the center of a cosmic battle between good and evil. And listening to enemy agents can get us into serious trouble.
Just as its hiding distanced the bird from the people who could save it, our bitterness over what our heavenly Father isn’t giving us may distance us from the only Power who can protect us. Instead of complaining about what God is keeping from us, we’d better start realizing that He is the only One shielding us from disaster.
Eldredge notes that God knows “that if we succeed without him, we will be infinitely further from him. We will come to believe terrible things about the universe—things like I can make it on my own and If I try harder, I can succeed.”
As I’ve mentioned before, God’s idea of success is different than ours and involves the much more important preserving of our souls rather than the enriching of our wallets. Considering how self-centered I already am, I suspect I need the caretaking jobs with which I supplement my income, to remind me that my purpose isn’t supposed to be all about me anyhow.
To get to the roots of the problem, it may be necessary for us to ask ourselves why we feel the need for success anyway. I discovered that what ran even deeper than my need for financial security was my need to feel important.
So, I had to ask myself, God’s loving you enough to die for you didn’t make you feel important enough? Or does this prove that, on some deeper level, you really don’t believe in that love?
Recently, as I was searching for some kittens in the barn loft, I suddenly felt boards give way beneath my feet. My startled yelp as my left leg went all the way through the floor brought our concerned dog rushing to my side.
Fortunately the thick layer of old straw on the floor preserved me from any injury other than a few minor scratches on that leg. There had once been a chute in that location, for tossing bales onto the first floor. Although it had been nailed shut, some of the boards used had decayed in the meantime.
Although I was a bit disgruntled, I shortly realized how much worse things could have been if I’d tumbled onto the cement of the barn’s first floor below. Or if it had been one of my elderly parents, instead of I, who had found the hole by the simple expedient of falling into it.
As I dragged a bale over to cap the opening until it could be fixed, I ended up feeling very grateful instead. With the straw concealing the danger, there would have been no way to discover it other than the one which I inadvertently employed. I obviously was the best person to do so, since my heavier brother might have gone all the way through instead. Rather than complaining about God not protecting us, I needed to thank Him for doing just that.
Speaking of gratitude, the doctor I mentioned earlier eventually accepted the idea that he might just be a sidelines sort of person, and discovered that there were more important things than fame—such as faith and family. He conquered his depression and finally got the credit due him, to the extent that he was played in a movie by Will Smith. After all, everybody likes those stories of an idealistic David fighting the Goliath of the establishment.
Not all of us will receive such vindication in this life. But, as that doctor discovered, what we do is not as important as who we are. To become good people, we might have to forego becoming successful people. After all, success only lasts for a few short years down here, while goodness goes on forever.