When we lived in Morocco we had a serious cockroach problem. They were everywhere – that was the problem. I never understood it. I had believed cockroaches only lived in dirty places so I tried to keep our house impeccably clean. But these cockroach-demons thought it was their house, too, and refused to leave no matter what we tried to eradicate them. And they were unbelievably, disgustingly large – nearly big enough to saddle-up and ride. They were so big that one time when a cockroach flew in through our screenless window and smacked me in the shoulder I thought it was a bird (which happened on occasion in Morocco, too). And these vermin are uglier than sin, or Gollum, or even the flying monkeys of Oz. Unlike traditional cockroaches that prefer your basement, sewer or garbage cans, our cockroaches seemed to prefer our upper-level bedrooms. Also, just like satan, these roaches were nocturnal and would hunt us down at night. Sometimes they crawled up on our bed. On several occasions, they crawled up on us. One time, in the middle of the night, Paul had one crawl up on his face and it tried to suck the spit from his mouth. Yes, it did.
Lord, have mercy. How I hate cockroaches.
However, living in Morocco also presented us with glorious things that, as Michiganders, we couldn’t get enough of – like sunshine, the ocean, surfing, mint tea, and, most affectionately, the year-round fresh fruit. I loved the unique sweetness of the watermelon, the juicy clementines, and abundant yellow cantaloupe with a red dot drawn on the side. (I repeatedly asked the locals for the specific name of the cantaloupe and they always replied “Yes, of course, it’s name in English is: Yellow cantaloupe with a red dot on the side.”) But Paul, he liked the dates the best. He ate them like candy. He would always pick up a box of dates whenever he did the shopping and would sneak them in the house when I wasn’t looking. He had to sneak because I would have never, ever, ever, ever to infinity, bought a box of dates. Never. I was loathe to even try one because, to me, they looked EXACTLY like cockroaches. The date’s opaque reddish-brown color along with its oblong shape and size are identical to the cockroach! If you added a couple antennae and four of those nasty, jagged, fast-as-lightning legs – voila! – a cockroach. Paul would rip open a date and yank out the pit and it looked to me just like dissecting a cockroach. I get puke in my mouth just thinking about it. Disgusting.
But one fateful day on a visit to the home of our dear Moroccan friends, I felt obliged (coerced?) to eat a date. They were passed around as the before-dinner-snack. And because Moroccans are the most hospitable people on this planet I didn’t want to dishonor them by refusing the food offered. Furthermore, they kept insisting these were the best dates in all of Morocco and my life just wouldn’t be complete without experiencing their succulence. So, I inhaled deeply, thanked God that living overseas had taught me to perfect “mouth-breathing-while-chewing-to-avoid-tasting”, and I ate one. Lo and behold, the skies parted, the muzzein stopped his call to prayer, the wild dogs stopped their barking, the incessant chorus of horns from the congested Casablancan streets stopped their honking, and a fantastic ray of sunshine beamed through the nearby gothic window lighting up that whole bowl of dates with a heavenly glow. I had experienced the divine. I proceeded to bury my face in that bowl and without any reserve or conscience, I devoured those dates. Every last one of them. Forget what I said earlier about infinity – those dates are now on my all-time favorite foods list and I will most definitely be buying dates both now and forevermore. Amen.
However, my problem remained. Cockroaches and dates still look shockingly similar. And what if, on a certain occasion, I would reach into our cupboard and instead of grabbing a date, inadvertently grab a cockroach? That may seem hard to fathom, but I promise you, in my kitchen in Morocco – it was entirely possible. What if I didn’t notice it was a cockroach until it was too late, say, after I had bitten the head off? Or worse yet, the butt? How would I make sure that when I wanted to eat this beautiful, succulent fruit that God kissed the earth with, I wouldn’t mistakenly grab something that looks exactly like it, but is actually pure evil?
(Now I know what the Bible says about God having created every living thing. It only makes sense that he created the cockroach. But I just gotta believe there is another explanation. I think somehow satan got his greedy little hands on what was otherwise an innocent cricket or gentle grasshopper and mutated it ever so slightly to become the cockroach. Maybe Adam lost a bet or a coin-toss or something – I don’t know. But I cannot believe that my all-loving God saw the cockroach and pronounced it “good” – I’m sticking with “pure evil”).
Because that ‘ole enemy of our souls is such a masterful deceiver, he is expert at taking something beautiful and twisting it just enough that we think we are tasting of the good, but he’s selling us the lie. He masterfully disguises the evil, – my gosh, it looks exactly like a date –and lures us into taking a bite, only to find we’ve been duped – we are eating cockroach butt.
For example, we all need food to live. Food is good. Food is beautiful. Food for fuel is the date. When I eat half a pan of brownies while staring out the window simply because I’m procrastinating – that is the butt of a cockroach.
Anytime the good is mutated slightly – often ever so subtIy – we are at risk for unknowingly consuming or endorsing something that is entirely evil.
When the “good” becomes warped, or too time-consuming, or over-magnified, or power-fueled, or greed-based, it then becomes “evil”. This can apply to nearly everything: work, play, education, exercise, cleanliness, shopping, leadership, knowledge, friendships, even (oooooh, here I go….) Bible studies!
Here’s another one – one of the “hottest” of our day: kids’ sports. It’s an example of ensuing evil that is so subtle, so culturally accepted and applauded, that it is unbelievably easy to miss. I see parents everywhere who love their children – a lot – which, of course, is a good thing. And in the name of love they sign their little Johnny up for soccer, hoping Johnny will develop habits of discipline, make new friends, stay fit, and find something he is passionate about. But then, a few years down the road, the parents and Johnny alike are some kind of soccer horror story where the only thing they live, breathe, think and discuss is soccer, Soccer, SOCCER, SOCCCCCCCERRRRRRR! Unbeknownst to them, because it happened so subtly, they have sacrificed family dinners, vacations, attending church, time with their other kids, money they meant to give to charitable causes, and even peace of mind just so Johnny could play soccer, Soccer, SOCCER, SOCCCCCCCERRRRRR! Because, the fact is, we cannot say “yes” to something without saying “no” to something else. Something ALWAYS gives. Of course, they will very defensively tell you having your child in sports is a good thing, and their humble hopes and goals are that Johnny will get to play in high-school, or even college, or possibly be the next Lionel Messi, so all of this “investment” will have its payoff.
But here it is: they are sucking on a cockroach butt.
The control that soccer has over their family’s life is no longer the beautiful fruit of the date – the beautiful thing that sports can and should be in the life of a child – but a raw and disease-ridden cockroach that will end up killing something in their lives. Perhaps it will kill Johnny’s passion. Or perhaps their marriage. Or their relationships with their friends, neighbors, or other children. Or their time that God meant for them to be in service to others. Or their money God meant for them to share. Or their diversified interests. Something will die. Because that is the scheme of satan – “….he comes to lie, kill and destroy”. And when we mistake the cockroach for the date – something will die.
In no way am I suggesting soccer is bad. Soccer is good. Soccer and swimming, play practice and piano, basketball and baseball, scholastic tutoring and science Olympiad, clarinet lessons and camera club: ALL GOOD. These things are dates, and when given their proper place and appropriate level of significance in the lives of our children, these things produce good and beautiful fruit in their lives.
However, when a good thing (perhaps soccer, but could be any kid’s activity) becomes too all-consuming, combined with every other all-consuming activity we’ve said “yes” to for our kids, we, the FAMILY, become exactly that: CONSUMED. We are EATEN ALIVE by the monster of our lives that we ourselves are responsible for creating. We created it – but it is all because we first bought the lie. We were deceived into biting into that which looked exactly like a date.
The enemy of our souls is relentlessly whispering to us this lie: “Do it ALL, you good and faithful parents! Give your kids ALL of it! If you don’t, they won’t make it in this world. They won’t succeed if you don’t give them every opportunity available. They will never make the [insert goal] if you don’t sign them up for the [insert activity]. You’re gonna have to work harder, push more, eat faster, sleep less, give greater in order for your kids to succeed in this world – that’s just the way it is today. If you don’t give-in to this new world order, maybe you don’t really love your kids. Maybe you’re selfish. This is your KIDS we’re talking about…”
We’ve had several children in our home over the last few years that say they can’t remember the last family dinner they’ve shared around their dining room table. Cockroach butt. I’ve been to so many all-day swimming and volleyball and gymnastics tournaments and watched countless younger siblings curled up on a blanket in the corner playing video games or watching movies on an i-pad for eight hours straight while big brother or sister competes. Cockroach butt. When husbands and wives can’t remember their last date-night – cockroach butt. When elderly parents no longer get visits from their children and grand-children – cockroach butt. When moms are working to supplement dad’s two-job income just to support all the kids’ sports and activity expenses – cockroach butt. When “coping” means the whole family needs to be on Prozac – it’s definitely cockroach butt.
All this begs one of the most important questions for our generation: Have we made our KIDS a false god? Out of love, and thinking that it was good, could it be we have elevated the successes and goals of our children to an unhealthy place costing us our marriages, our family relationships, our friendships, our health, our family dinners, our philanthropic dollars, our generosity and hospitality to others, our sanity – and even our peace of mind? How crafty of satan to take that which is good (our love for our kids) and twist it just enough that it actually becomes a very dangerous, self-destructive thing in society. The date is really a cockroach.
And here is a truth: We don’t have to live like this. WE DON’T HAVE TO LIVE LIKE THIS! We only need to take a step back and really gaze into the eyes of the monster that is eating us – identify the monster as the cockroach and lay it down. LAY IT DOWN. Stop pretending that it’s okay.
It’s not okay. LAY IT DOWN.
If you, like me, have heard yourself whining about your fatigue, complaining about your busyness, or just plain sad that your life isn’t what you thought it’d be because some external factors are just sucking the life out of you, maybe we all need to reach in our mouths and pull out the stuff we’ve been chewing on and take a good look at it: Is it a date or a cockroach?