Rats in the Basement.
From the time I first heard this from C.S. Lewis, it has stuck with me, and now I share it with each of you, that perhaps it may likewise resonate in your soul.
surely what a man does when he is taken off his guard is the best evidence for what sort of a man he is? Surely what pops out before the man has time to put on a disguise is the truth? If there are rats in the cellar you are most likely to see them if you go in very suddenly. But the suddenness does not create the rats: it only prevents them from hiding. In the same way the suddenness of the provocation does not make me an ill-tempered man; it only shows me what an ill-tempered man I am.
Part of creating a happy, fulfilling and successful life, so I’m convinced, is the developing of good, strong character.
Doing good things isn’t the same thing as being good.
Character creates confidence.
Of course we can always pretend to have character, to be calm, confident, honest, brave, virtuous… but by and by, some extenuating or sudden vexation will undoubtedly reveal the true nature of our character.
But it’s what we do once we have seen the ‘rats’ in our personal cellars that perhaps matters most.
Not one of us is perfect. We all have character weaknesses and flaws. But we can choose to close the door and either pretend the rats weren’t there, or we can justify why they are there and reason that there’s no point in trying to remove them.
Conversely however, we can decide to go into the cellar with our traps and poisons and seek to kill them!
I would suggest that the latter, whilst requiring more time and patience on our part, is the surer way to being happier.
You can beautify the outside of a house how ever you like, but if the inner structure is rotting and decaying, the house will invariably fall down.
Perhaps this is what Christ meant when he taught us to clean the inner vessel first.
Perhaps we ought to be more grateful for the unexpected moments that reveal our true selves because they provide opportunities for genuine growth, not just superficial pretense.
The truth is we all have rats in the basement of our lives. My children’s sometimes perplexing behavior has oft revealed to me my true character and I’ve got things to work on.
I’ve often said that it’s easy to be happy when life is good, or to be good when there’s no real temptation. It’s easy to be a Christian in the church pew on Sunday and it’s easy to get along with your spouse when life isn’t stressful.
But it’s when life isn’t so good, and there is genuine temptation, and we aren’t in the chapel pew, and when life really is stressful that we truly begin to see the cracks if our character was only outward and superficial.
But let us not lose heart. Rats can always be killed. We must do our best always to figure things out by ourselves, but let us never forget that we also have the greatest pest control being in the universe on our side, Jesus Christ, to help us along the way.
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