Angela asks how one can deal with the Little Nasties: the unexpected sins one discovers inside one’s heart.
Finding the Little Nasties within is not always an easy task. They have prodigious camouflage abilities and even when you pick up their scent, they can be surprisingly slippery. And when you finally manage to corner them, they have a way of turning on you viciously.
The faults within us are clever at dressing themselves up as virtues, and it is not uncommon to find that I can be regularly committing a sin under the guise of self-righteousness. “Of course I had to get angry with him – he had to be put in his place. Let’s see him try that with me again!” Detecting a Little Nasty requires a great deal of courage, the courage to strip away the comfortable covering of feeling good about oneself and exposing the raw mess underneath. It is much like cleaning the slough off a nasty festering skin wound – it hurts a lot, but it has to be done so the infection doesn’t end up killing you.
In tandem with courage, brutal honesty will help a great deal. We can all be quite honest about the faults of others (at least within ourselves) but for some reason we find difficulty in applying the same standard of honesty to our own situation.
I don’t think it is possible to attain this sort of honesty without first offering up a sacrifice. The great ox of being pleased with oneself must first be led to the altar and slaughtered, its remains burned as a sweet aroma of surrender on the altar of Truth. Until one gives up this powerful desire to be pleased with oneself, it is virtually impossible to be honest, for it bestows the strongest motivation to find another way of looking at things, a way that is more acceptable and less damning. Once this major barrier is broken down, the door is opened for God to enter and begin the long laborious task of rebuilding one’s self afresh; only this time, He will do it the right way.
Do not misunderstand – I am not saying that one should live their life feeling miserable and despondent about themselves – far from it! For the rebuilt self-image in which God participates is immensely pleasing, but for very different reasons. The self-pleasing image of myself brings misery in the end, for it is based on lies. But the divinely designed self-image is based on Truth, and “the truth will set you free”.
There is an immense joy and peace that comes from seeing the truth in yourself. It is peace because you can feel secure that there are no nasty surprises lurking unseen or undetected and waiting to jump out and destroy your life, or at least your comfortable self-image. No, everything is out in the open, nothing is hidden, what you see is what you get, so you know exactly what you are dealing with. That is actually quite peaceful, even if what you are dealing with involves Little Nasties. Better the cockroach you see and deal with than the cockroach you nervously hear scratching about somewhere behind your pillow!
And it is joy, for Truth brings its own joy. We experience this joy when we learn something new about the truth of God’s creation, for example; like the joy of neatly solving a complex puzzle or of learning how wonderfully designed an eye is. Truth just fits together so neatly! It is as deeply satisfying as clicking the 1000th piece of a jigsaw puzzle into place and stepping back to enjoy the completed masterpiece that cost you so much time and effort. Knowing the truth about the Little Nasties within is similarly satisfying – the picture is not so pretty, but there is a great deal of happiness to be found in finishing it off.
But also like a jigsaw puzzle, putting the real picture together can be incredibly difficult at times. Little Nasties can be a bit like quicksilver – just when you think you’ve got a good grasp, it slips right through your fingers.
You find a Little Nasty in your heart. But within days, perhaps hours, you have been distracted, or become busy with other matters, or subconsciously avoided pursuing it, until before you know it, the Little Nasty has been consigned to that drawer in your mind marked “For Future Investigation – When I Have the Leisure”. For of course, there are far more pressing matters to attend to, aren’t there?
Grasping and holding quicksilver needs patience and care, and a bit of experience. So does hunting Little Nasties. Experience is a great teacher, and the little critters become easier to catch when you’ve learned a few of their tricks so you go in prepared for them. Setting aside some uninterrupted daily time for hunting Little Nasties is one strategy. Moments of quiet contemplation are invaluable in this pursuit. How many Little Nasties have I trapped sitting alone in an empty Church with nothing but my thoughts for company, or walking in a park, or gazing upon the ocean waves lapping on the shore? It is in these moments of serenity that the Spirit of God is most able to work in us.
Dogged persistence is another invaluable tool. There are creatures in nature that bite a human and will never let go, even if they die. I think God may have created these tenacious critters partly as a example for us. Once you have the Little Nasty in your sights, don’t give up until you have flushed it into the open and dealt with it!
Neither should one enter into a conversation with the Little Nasty. Often these conversations end up with the Little Nasty convincing you that it’s not really so bad, and giving you a hundred reasons to let it go, and lulling you into a false sense of security. Do not even begin such a conversation! If you find yourself in one, get out! Tell the Little Nasty, “Get behind me, Satan!”
Worst of all is when a cornered Little Nasty turns vicious. It can rip your soul out, if you let it. It can turn the blame back on you so powerfully that you lose your confidence and your hope and collapse in a shivering heap while it makes its getaway to the safety of the shadows of your heart once more.
“How dare you think you can deal with me in this way?
Who do you think you are?
Don’t you see what a horrible, sinful wreck you are?
Do you really think that the likes of you can ever be a good person?
Come on, who do you think you’re kidding?
I am only the smallest and weakest of your zoo of Little Nasties; there are many more like me you know, and they’re much worse than I am.
Why are you picking on me?
And do you really think you will ever get us all out?
Better men than you have tried before this, and failed!”
This is the kind of stinging attack of which only the desperate are capable. And it can really ram home. The best shield against it is humility. Humility is shield that is made of the strongest materials there are: it is made of God’s grace and bound together by His unconditional love. When it is shiny and polished and well cared for, you can see your reflection in it, but it is a reflection from the loving, gentle, compassionate grace of God that reflects the deep beauty He created in us rather than the ugliness we have accumulated through our years. Oh, you can’t hide the ugliness and you know it’s still there, but somehow when you see that ugliness reflected from God’s grace and love, the original beauty God designed for you shines through it and transforms it.
“Yes,” you find yourself responding to the vicious attack of the cornered Little Nasty, “I am all that you say I am, it is true. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me. And He still loves me with all my weakness and faults. And if He has hope for me, then neither will I abandon hope. If He can still see what I might become, if He has a plan for transforming me, then I will trust myself to His grace and love, and I will patiently hunt down every single Nasty that I have so foolishly invited into my heart until I have banished every single one, or until my last dying breath stops me. Now stop your ruckus and give yourself up, for you must know that you will not escape me today, no matter what you do. For the Lord of Truth is by my side.”
To every hunt, there must come an end, one way or another. Sometimes, our Little Nasties get away, but sometimes we catch them and eradicate them from our hearts.