Wise As Serpents and Innocent As Doves

A few weeks back, not too far down the road from me, a huge plywood sign appeared in front of the little house that sits square in the middle of a sharp curve.  In large, uneven, paint-dripping letters, someone had scrawled, “GOD SAW YOU TAKE THAT BIKE.  GOD WILL MAKE YOU PAY.”

Now, I’m sure some folks snickered as they passed that sign or maybe smiled condescendingly, but not me.  In fact, every single time I passed that sign (and I passed it a lot because it was up for a long time), I breathed a prayer for my neighbor.  I think I understand his rage, his need to feel that even if the scales of justice are not balanced in this world, they just might tip his way in the next.  I remembered him well because soon after we moved here, I waved at him as he sat on his porch, and he was one of the few in this neighborhood that ever waved back.  But he doesn’t wave any more.

Years ago, when we lived in another trailer far out in the sticks, we had a burglary.  They cut the phone lines, damaged both our doors trying to get in, and pretty much cleaned out the few things we had of value (monetary value, that is).  Ariel and Benjamin were 6 and 7, and we picked glass shards out of Ariel’s stuffed animals for weeks, since the perpetrators ultimately broke the window above her bed to gain entry.  I discovered all this when I came home alone.  I quickly left and drove from neighbor to neighbor, looking for one who would let me use their phone.  At least half of them were home (I could hear them inside), but not ONE would come to the door.  Later, we had evidence that it was probably one of our own neighbors who broke in, but we could never interest the sheriff’s office in pursuing it.  After all, we were just poor trailer trash. 

So, I think I understand how my neighbor down the road feels. 

There are a number of admonishments in the words of Jesus that are a real challenge to our baser human tendencies (such as turning the other cheek when someone strikes you), but one of the most difficult to me are his instructions to his twelve disciples upon sending them forth to minister to the world.  He tells them (in Matthew 10:16), “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”  I’ve thought a lot about that lately as Blue Ridge Blue Collar Man and I have faced a number of things that have made it hard not to slip into a dark state of disillusionment and cynicism.  Our struggle to get Worker’s Comp benefits without hiring a lawyer (ultimately unsuccessful), our realization that neither his employer nor the state Industrial Commission seem to be there to help us, and even looking at the bill for his recent hospital stay and the ridiculousness of the charges ($3.33 for a single 81mg aspirin!) are just a few things that make us feel disheartened about the state of the human race.  Not to mention the goings-on in Washington, D.C.

Sure, the “wise as serpents” part isn’t all that hard.  Wariness comes easy now.  We are very much like watchful serpents these days, gazing warily through our narrowed eyes, watching for those that might tread upon us, and hoping we can strike before they do.  But if you live constantly on guard, suspicious of everyone, your vision will become narrow and jaundiced.  And a jaundiced eye never sees clearly. Neither is it possible in this world for a reasonably intelligent adult to be completely “innocent as a dove.”  If you don’t  feel a little cynical these days, you’re not thinking.  I always love watching the mourning doves in our birdbath, but, clearly they’re not the sharpest members of the avian community. When a hawk comes around, all the other birds clear out.  Not the doves.  I worry about them.

So, to be both “wise as serpents” and “innocent as doves” is one of the many spiritual challenges that I fail at daily.  But I keep trying, keep struggling against complete cynicism and bitterness, keep holding fast to faith.  Because cynicism may come from facing certain facts, but it doesn’t come from facing truth.  Because the real truth is—there is always hope.  And the real truth is, there’s still a lot of goodness in this world.  Lord knows, I’ve seen that, too.  In friends who stick with me (thank you!), even when I’m sad and a little bitter.  In my immediate family, who loves me as I am.  God is there, whether in the hearts of my beloved or in the mockingbird that sings at night. 

So I struggle against darkness—both in the world and in my own head.  Cynicism may be an intelligent response to this old world, but there’s nothing particularly wise about it.  In darkness, we lose our vision, and it’s easy to conclude that there’s no way out.  Real wisdom, I think, sees things as they are, but believes they can be better and looks for ways to make them so.  It seeks a way out of the darkness.  I’m no theologian, but I believe that may be what Jesus meant.  To be wary and discerning, but always open to goodness.

So may we see things as they are but keep a vision for how they can be.  May we know real truth when we see it. And may we keep our wary, weary eyes fixed always on the light.

15 Responses to “Wise As Serpents and Innocent As Doves”

  1. Vicki Lane Says:

    Wise words, beautifully written. It’s difficult not to feel helpless these days.

  2. betsyfromtennessee Says:

    Oh Beth, I am so sorry for what you are going through… I have big tears in my eyes –just thinking about you all… Have you been to a local church (not a tiny one –but a larger one that has a staff of people working there)??? Our church (when I was working in Texas) had a ministry to help people just like you two. There were lawyers in the congregation who gave of themselves to help get you pointed the right way… There are so many many people out there who care.. You have to NOT be ashamed to ask for help–wherever you can get it… We are proud people–we Americans. AND–we don’t want to ask for help. But–there are plenty of people out there who WOULD help if they knew your situation. Wish we lived closer…

    I will keep you and your hubby in my prayers… Love the dove picture.. You are right —they aren’t too smart and hawks LOVE to snatch them…

    Much Love Beth,

  3. Sweetflutterbys3 Says:

    I think your post is very timely for me personally and for all that is going on in our country right now. I have been going through a tough time and I can really understand your frustration, pain and your desire to hold onto your faith rather than becoming bitter. It is a struggle I am facing as well with some troubles I am going through. I will pray that you and your family get through this time quickly and easily and that you can stay open to goodness. Take care my friend.

  4. Jes Says:

    I have to admit, beyond the injustice, the sign did make me giggle a little. But, on the serious side, beautiful point. You guys are in my thoughts and I hope that some big ol’ french doors and windows open up real soon so that you guys can get relief from the stifling heat of all the events. I hope those doves make it too, poor birds.

  5. Jayne Says:

    Indeed my friend… we can “choose” to be bitter and disillusioned, or as you said, we can know that there is hope and light. I saw a quote on a friends Fb wall recently that I loved… “Faith may move mountains, but sometimes God asks you to pick up a shovel.” :c) Thinking of you, and thanking God that you are my friend, and have such light and peace in your soul. XOXO

  6. Pat Says:

    Beautiful words, Beth. I love your picture of the doves. They seem so full of peace and hope.

  7. CountryDew Says:

    Wonderful words. I am awed by your ability to open up and admit that life is not wonderful. The honesty is very powerful.

  8. Darla Says:

    A truly beautiful post; reading, I felt your wonderful heart and soul–your precious spark of innocence–shining through, in spite of your self-stated “wary, weary eyes.” (((blessings)))

  9. Martha Says:

    Beth, I can so relate to your post. I feel the same way as I get older; constantly trying to retain my faith, yet struggling not to become too cynical. It is a difficult, ugly world at times. But there is hope. There is always hope. And love. And beauty. And good people. So we keep plowing forward, one day at a time, as best as we can, holding onto the good things in life. It’s not always easy, but it is necessary. Hang in there, dear friend; don’t let the bad side of life destroy that beautiful spirit of yours. {{{{{Hugs to you}}}}}

  10. colleen Says:

    Life is such a fine line of balance and what goes around usually does come around.

  11. Rider Says:

    This is a new kind of posting for you, Ms. Blue. It’s wholly devoted to religious philosophy, and it’s very, very well done. I can only guess how much you struggled with your inner critic, first to get every letter and word perfect and then to publish them.

    I know it’s unfair of me to reap all the benefit of your work without contributing any of my own. But, unfair or not, I’ll tell you that your posting was worth every minute of the struggle.

  12. Debi Says:

    Beth, that was beautiful writing. I read it twice. You’re right. You do have to stay on guard while somehow staying open to goodness. I’m trying not to read so much news. It’s causing me to focus too much on the bad stuff. I’ve got enough of it in my own life. I started reading, again, one of the books you sent me instead. Look at the goodness you’ve done! Beth’s book instead of the bad news.

    You don’t have to thank anyone for sticking by you when you’re sad and bitter. I think most of us have been sad and bitter lately. I don’t want anyone to have hard times, but it helps me to know that I am not alone.

  13. The Southern Lady Says:

    Hi Beth, Sorry I am late getting here. I think hope is what keeps us going and if we lose our hope, we might as well give up. Being able to see that light at the end of the tunnel even if it is only in our mind makes us be able to continue on this path called life. I am praying for you and hoping things get better for you soon. Love and hugs.

  14. Benjamin Says:

    Those are tough words to hear. It is a gift to be able to succeed in doing like Jesus said. A gift that requires overcoming laziness of heart which wants only one or the other literal black or white quality at a time (yes, it is very easy for anyone to fall into deep depression without looking back; on the other side–everyone loves babies and sunshine, bluebirds and rabbits, good food and drink…).

    Not many persistently love the weary (and sometimes bitter) but strong-hearted adult. The deeper state of purity, which has been challenged and injured by evil, but come back up pure, seems troublesome to the lazy heart–for the lazy heart could not be bothered to seek out what is true. The guilt is heaped up high on the lazy heart and turned back on the few that really act responsibly.

    Keep it up. We’ll listen and learn together.

  15. Debi Says:

    Wow, he’s a chip off the old block–wise and loving.

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