“There was a bat in our house!” I told my neighbor Jo as we walked our dogs through the forest. “At about 5 am, light was just dawning, and a little black bat with big wings clumsily fluttered over my head. It disappeared for a minute or two, then flew by me again. I had to duck!”
“A bat!” said Jo. “You should call the city and complain. If we had more streetlights, we wouldn’t have such a bad bat problem. Did you call the exterminator? Get your house fumigated, then give the bill to the city.”
“Ummm….no, I just opened the doors and windows and went out for a walk,” I said. “I figured the bat would find its way out.”
“I hope you’re right,” she said. “They should put more garbage cans along this trail. My dog is constantly eating scraps of food, then getting diarrhea. And they should put more poop bag dispensers, and keep them filled. I pay my taxes, I should get my money’s worth. The winter rains are coming, it’ll be dark and I won’t be able to walk this path anymore. They should put lights along the trail.”
I try to avoid walking with my neighbor Jo. Listening to her complain isn’t fun, but that’s not my main problem. My problem is that her perspective affects mine. The more time I spend with her, the more I see things through her eyes…and the unhappier I feel.
Jo immediately spots the flaws, weaknesses, and problems. She knows how people should live, how equipment should operate, where bats should live, how politicians should lead, and how dogs should bark. And those “shoulds” make her irritable, negative and no fun to be around.
The bat isn’t the problem
There will always be a bat fluttering around the house. Sometimes the “bat” is an empty ketchup bottle just when you’re sitting down for a cheeseburger and fries. Sometimes the bat is bigger — a flat tire on the way to court, or tripping on the sidewalk and breaking your shoulder. Sometimes the bat is big and black and mean: your wife’s Parkinson’s disease is killing her slowly, or your child keeps stealing money to feed her crack addiction, or a loved one dies and life is sad and lonely.
This morning I was thinking about Jo. Why can’t she just accept things the way they are? Why does she have to be so negative and complain so much? I understand that negative experiences, thoughts and emotions stick to us easily and stay with us for a long time. Back when we were cavemen, we had to constantly scan the environment for threats, beasts, bandits, marauders. We survived this long because we’re hardwired to spot problems.
But we don’t have to live this way anymore. We don’t have to focus on the problems or how things “should” be. We don’t have to protect ourselves — not from bandits, and not from bats. We are safe.
I realized that Jo’s problem is that she doesn’t live like she is safe. She lives in negativity, anxiety, and fear of attack. She lives as though she’ll lose everything at any moment…and she doesn’t see that she’s already lost the most important thing she could ever have. Peace.
And then the bat got caught in my hair
But not literally! A metaphorical bat landed on my head: I realized that I was doing the exact same thing I was accusing Jo of. Instead of accepting her as a “bat” that was fluttering around my house and would soon find its way out, I ruminated on her negative, critical attitude.
I was guilty of doing exactly what Jo did. Instead of accepting her as she is — instead of loving her like Jesus calls us to love our neighbors — I focused on how she “should” be. I thought Jo should see things the way they are without judging so critically, that Jo should know that acceptance opens her heart and clears her mind, and that Jo should learn that wide-eyed, open-minded observation empowers her to see what can be changed, left behind, or lived with as is.
It’s not Jo, it’s me. I need to see Jo the way she is without judging so critically. I need to know that acceptance opens my heart and clears my mind. I need to learn that wide-eyed, open-minded observation empowers me to see what can be changed, what can be left behind, and what can be lived with as is.
At least it’s not rats
That’s my default attitude in life: “At least it’s not rats!” I’m almost 50, old enough to know that I didn’t deliberately train myself to think “at least it’s not rats” when bats fly overhead in my house. Somewhere along the way I learned to just open the door and let the bats out.
But, clearly, I don’t do this all the time.
What’s your default attitude? Become aware of how you respond to the big and little bats in your life. Simply notice if you default to a fearful, anxious “Bats shouldn’t be in the house! Call the exterminator! Sue the city! Get more streetlights!” or a hopeful, faithful “Sometimes bats get in. Sometimes they roost and need to be dislodged. Other times they just leave and you forget they were ever there. What’s for lunch?”
We all have bats flying overhead…and some are much more obvious and painful than others. We can’t control the bats, but we don’t have to let them get caught in our hair or roost in our rafters.
With His love,
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