It was as dark as pitch that morning, as the street lamp closest to me had burnt out. Fast-walking on the grass, I remained one step inside of the sidewalk, attempting to assuage tender shin splints as I circled the lake.
Suddenly, my foot hit a boulder. Hard. Before I could even yelp in pain, the boulder hissed and lunged. A scream stuck in my throat.
I had kicked an alligator.
There was no time to think, and I did not need to. My body knew exactly what to do. I fled, in a zig-zag pattern, as quickly as I could. I must have looked ridiculous, but did it matter? After a time, I glanced back in the darkness, relieved that the alligator had given up.
I hightailed it home, heart pumping.
Many years ago, when our family lived near this lake in Florida, we quickly grew accustomed to spotting alligators. They usually stayed in the water, lurking, waiting for prey. More than once, I watched them emerge, with scarcely a ripple, from beneath the surface, silently plucking off a delicate white ibis or tiny cattle egret, with an unmistakable and forceful crunch. It was both magnificent and unsettling. Ample grass surrounded the lake, safely separating the lake from the sidewalk, but as a mother to four young children, I remained vigilant. I had seen one too many birds perish, victims of silent, deadly speed and stunning force.
Each January, when the weather cooled off briefly, the alligators crawled to shore, thumping and settling on the grass, eager to warm their cold-blooded frames in the tropical sun.
Lake residents would pause their walking, jogging, and bicycle riding, stopping to marvel at these behemoths who slept lazily, stone-still in the sun. My little boys were enthralled, and borrowed bunches of reptile library books, lugging them to the breakfast table with: Mommy, listen! You will never believe this! as they shared interesting facts. Many, many facts. Facts that were repeated day in and day out for weeks. I can summon the memory now: tanned little fellows, shirtless and sleepy, hair standing on end, eyes wide with the wonder of carnivorous animals in our very own neighborhood.
Mommy, they have the most powerful bite in the world!
If an alligator is chasing you, be sure to run away in a zig-zag. They are fast but lazy, and get tired easily.
I patted their heads and poured their cereal, thanking them for these important pieces of information.
While they were passionate about everything alligator, I was passionate about the cooler weather, no matter how slight, and the joy of nature-walking, embracing the lake breeze and chill, regardless how negligible.
Which is what led me to exercise at 5:30 am on the day I kicked an alligator. It was cool by Florida standards, and in my excitement I did not pause to remember that the lake would be too chilly for these reptiles. I likewise forgot about the marshmallows.
A substantial number of teenagers in the neighborhood had started carrying bags of marshmallows to the lake, carelessly laughing and throwing them to the alligators floating on the edge of the still, sparkling water. Ironically, the youth actually clustered directly in front of the sign: DANGER: DO NOT FEED ALLIGATORS, while they tossed handfuls of the fluffy white sweets to the eager animals.
The alligators snapped up these new delicacies, which, of course, required zero effort on their part. That is another fact I had learned at our breakfast table: alligators prefer easy prey. They do not want to struggle to hunt, and even though they have voracious appetites, they are lazy. So marshmallows? You bet.
Some adults grew alarmed with the marshmallow saga, especially as the gators continued to creep further up the embankment and closer to people. By the time the bright yellow school bus chugged into our neighborhood each afternoon, the creatures were positioned and waiting, salivating like clockwork. They wanted marshmallows, and they knew exactly who provided them.
Someone finally reported the feedings to an authority, and more warning signs flooded the sidewalk, this time posting penalty fees for transgressors. The feedings stopped, but the gators remembered and continued to inch closer.
I remember a time, some twenty years ago, when a slim book, entitled The Prayer of Jabez, was released. Many Christians scooped it up, madly flipping pages, certain that it carried the secret cocktail to an easy life of wealth and health. The book is based upon 1 Chronicles 4:9-10, a mere two verses, regarding a descendant of Judah named Jabez, who asked God to bless him and increase his borders, and for God to keep him from harm and pain. God granted his request.
It seems impossible that an entire cult could be fashioned from these two verses, but that is pretty much what happened. It was complete foolishness, but for people who did not know the Bible, it was enticing. I remember the cultural pressure to buy into this cheap trick. People I knew and loved grew alarmingly glassy-eyed, reciting these verses like a desperate chant, completely disregarding the totality of Scripture.
The book ultimately fizzled, probably as people realized, regardless of their 1 Chronicle chants, that pain and suffering and tragedy and hardship and ultimately death eventually happen to us all. It sold millions of copies, exposing the utter lack of discernment and commitment to God and his Word.
Here is the truth: poor theology, lack of devotion to God, and crummy living are the results of a refusal to engage in serious Bible reading and study and meditation. We are each responsible for delighting in God’s Word and joyfully obeying it. The posture of our individual hearts will be revealed in our day-to-day life.
The Prayer of Jabez scenario reminds me of Florida’s alligators, crunching up the easy prey of professing believers who are entirely anemic in their personal Bible consumption. People who choose to casually play with alligators, feeding the beasts with lazy, marshmallow-thinking.
I only knew to flee in a zig-zag because our family had studied the book of alligators, were familiar with their habits, and steadily reminded each other of an escape plan.
Although I had escaped, it was my own lack of discernment that led me to walk a dark and deserted lake alone at that time of morning, especially given the recent problems regarding marshmallow feedings. I had not stopped to think.
It is a cinch to see the stupidity from twenty years ago, but what about the foolishness of today? Are we deep enough in God’s Word, immersed in such truth, that false theology is immediately evident?
None of us are immune from straying from God’s truth, and it would be prideful to think otherwise. But it is far less likely to happen if we savor Scripture daily. This requires time, intentionality, and softened hearts that are tender to the Word of God.
We are a deeply distracted people, aren’t we? Reaching for our phones, trolling social media and news as though it is our lifeline; our oxygen.
Satan knows this. He is an alligator, devouring the easy prey.
It is not too late. Switch your lifeline to the living Word of God, and watch the Prince of Darkness flee.
For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. ~Hebrews 4:12