Two months after I’d damaged a woman’s car when I’d fallen asleep at the wheel, she called saying she just wanted to “take my anger out on you.” I was grateful that no one had been hurt in the accident and that the insurance company had met all the needs quickly and completely for all involved. But I felt terrible that I’d caused the accident. So when she called, I listened quietly, apologizing when I could as she unleashed a stream of invective.
As the caller continued and I offered no verbal resistance or defense, she got more belligerent. I felt it would have been unkind and not healing to dismiss her by hanging up, so I held the phone about a foot away from my ear and listened. I began to feel like a fish contemplating bait on the end of a line. I asked myself if I was going to respond with equal force, or hold to a higher, humbler thought. In other words, was I going to “take the bait” or stand firm for the spiritual qualities that we all have a right to reflect, qualities straight from our source, God – qualities that are spiritually alert, loving, good, strong enough to meet the challenge, and impermeable to suggestions of anger or self-justification.
Mary Baker Eddy, who discovered Christian Science, wrote that it’s important to “master the propensities” (“Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” p. 405) – that is, susceptibilities, penchants, tendencies, or inclinations that are negative – and to recognize them and toss them out. We can learn to sort ideas, to discern the true from the false, to perceive the thoughts that are from God, and be alert to those thoughts that are simply weak attempts by mortal mind, or the “carnal mind” as the Apostle Paul put it in the Bible (Romans 8:7), to distract, divert, or divide us. We can learn to cultivate the ideas we want to keep, and discard those we do not want developed in our consciousness. We can treat the fertile environment of our thought as the beautiful garden that it actually is.
As I silently listened to the torrent of anger on the other end of the line, a hymn from the “Christian Science Hymnal” came to mind:
Speak gently, it is better far
To rule by love than fear;
Speak gently, let no harsh word mar
The good we may do here.
Speak gently to the erring ones,
They must have toiled in vain;
Perchance unkindness made them so;
O win them back again.
Speak gently, ’tis a little thing,
Dropped in the heart’s deep well;
The good, the joy that it may bring,
Eternity shall tell.
(David Bates, No. 315)
Eventually, the caller began to wind down and said, tellingly, “Well, I can’t say that you’ve ruined my life.” That was an interesting statement. Clearly, she was unhappy with other aspects of her life and was looking for someone to blame. We ended the conversation peacefully. After taking a moment to regain my composure, I prayed that she’d feel as though she was a part of something good, and not separated from good.
In the Bible, Paul declared this about God: “For in him we live, and move, and have our being” (Acts 17:28). Mrs. Eddy writes in Science and Health, “The intercommunication is always from God to His idea, man” (p. 284). This gave me the assurance that the caller had access to the ideas she needed, and that I could perceive her spiritual and perfect nature and discern the person she really was. I felt peaceful and supportive of her, and she never called again.
The idea of “not taking the bait” stayed with me. We take the bait when we believe the suggestion that something can divide God’s children into “us” and “them.” In fact, there is no “them.” There is just “us” – all God’s ideas expressing God’s entirely good being. We take the bait when we allow ourselves to have contempt for anyone, to ignore or marginalize anyone, to criticize. We take the bait when we accept limitations for ourselves or others. Jesus didn’t take the bait when the scribes and Pharisees tried to trap him into a showdown between accepted Mosaic laws and questioning the practice of stoning a woman (see John 8:1-11). He turned the tables by asking them to take a good look at what needed correcting in their own lives.
We, too, can resist the temptation to take the bait. The Lord’s Prayer helps us address the temptation to strike with indignation: “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” This, to me, includes the temptation to accept any sense that misunderstands or underestimates our spiritual strength and believes we are susceptible, vulnerable mortals, easily tricked into believing or perpetuating lies.
Instead of contributing to anything that makes us feel separate from God or His sons and daughters, we can examine our thoughts, be alert to when we are baited by thoughts not our own, and avoid the bait just as a wise fish swims away. Through consistent willingness to be alert, we can help ourselves and bring light and healing to others.