Columnists > Soul Food

Providential ants

Learning to see God's hands in all life's troubles

Issue: "Face Off," Aug. 9, 1997

One night last summer, while sitting alone at the kitchen table, I suddenly stopped breathing and listened as the hairs on my head popped. I felt a creeping motion behind me.

Slowly, I looked over my shoulder, and what I saw made me bruise both legs getting out of there. A long, black, line writhed from the corner of the ceiling to the floor and disappeared into the dishwasher. Holding my mouth, I tip-toed back and looked inside. It was a seething mass of big black ants.

I had the sinking feeling these were carpenter ants. I stared at the ones I captured in a jar. Did they have thin waists? I couldn't tell. A parade of experts came by to look. They got out magnifying glasses and grimly nodded their heads. Carpenter ants. Could be anywhere in your house, you know. It will cost you a lot of money to make them leave.

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As I nervously thought of insects gnawing at our home until it collapsed, I wondered whether there was a fixed Christian response to the "small" disasters of life. Did God have an interest in this or were we on our own?

Our trouble began the previous fall when a repairman came to replace damaged siding on the back of the house. The more he pulled off the worse it got. Everything was rotten. Siding. Studs. Even the window frame. But more alarming were the nests of carpenter ants infesting everything. He decided RAID would teach them a lesson. Of course, hind sight would tell you not to trust a carpenter to know a thing about extermination.

On the day of the big battle, our exterminator arrived in a hard-hat, equipment strapped to her waist, and a drill in her hand. Right away, I knew I would be safe with her; no ant would dare run up her pant leg and bite her.

The first thing she did was drill a row of little holes along every outside wall just above the floor. Then with a long thin nozzle she pumped in the poison. She let off bombs in the basement. But the attic was where the real war was fought. I heard her thundering down the attic stairs yelling; "Jackpot! I hit it!" She found me and breathlessly announced "a direct hit into the colony" and would I come look at them? I said, "No, could I get my teeth capped instead?" She looked so crestfallen, I gave in. The scene in the attic was beyond belief. Giant black ants boiled out of our eaves. Queens flew everywhere. Ants ran across the floor in waves. Feeling sick, I bolted down the stairs, slammed the door, and told Denis we needed to move.

As our exterminator left she warned us not to worry if the colony seemed a "little active" for a few days-that was normal. The next ten days I was startled by ants everywhere. They ran across the ceiling and fell into our bed at night. They crawled and staggered over our dining table. They died in heaps in the bathroom. Eventually they disappeared, and I began to relax a little.

Despite wars, crime, and government corruption, this is where most of us live the better portion of our lives. Here in the vast, ordinary, wasteland of our days. It is a place where God is often unacknowledged in a million little disasters and events. It is the place of broken appliances and unexpected inconveniences. It is the place where we get dents in our cars and ants in our walls just to suck up our meager savings.

We live through large portions of life forgetting that the smallest ant with a tiny waist comes under the reign of Christ. I do not want to live this way-ignoring God's interest and purpose in the course of my very ordinary days-or to think of even small inconveniences as a wasteland to be endured. I'd rather see them as John Flavel does in his book The Mystery of Providence:

"It is the great support and solace of the saints in all the distresses that befall them here, that there is a wise Spirit sitting in all the wheels of motion, and governing the most eccentric creatures and their most pernicious designs to blessed and happy issues. And, indeed, it were not worth while to live in a world devoid of God and Providence."

In fact, Christ's power not only sustains our being, but the integrity of our house and even the size of our savings account.


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