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No need to take the bait

From the October 14, 2013 issue of the Christian Science Sentinel

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 was 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 string of invective.

As the caller continued and I offered no verbal resistance or defense, she seemed to get 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 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.

I asked myself if I was going to respond with equal force, or hold to a higher, humbler thought.

Christian Science teaches us to “master the propensities” (Mary Baker Eddy, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, p. 405)—that is, susceptibilities, penchants, tendencies, or inclinations—and to recognize and toss out erroneous or mortal-based suggestions disguised as our own thoughts. We learn to sort ideas, discern the real from the suggestive, 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 learn to cultivate the ideas we want to keep, and discard those we do not want developed in our consciousness. We treat the fertile environment of our thought as the beautiful garden it actually is.

As I silently listened to the litany 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 some place to lay the 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). Mary Baker 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 mortal mind’s 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). He turned the tables by asking them to take a good look at what needed correcting in their own lives. Mary Baker Eddy didn’t take the bait when she was attacked for her writings that healed so many. She didn’t lash out. She prayed deeply to love and forgive more, and let her actions fall in line with this thinking, proving the power of Christian Science.

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” (Matthew 6:13). 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.

The good news is, we don’t need to turn away from family, church, or world situations that threaten to divide us, or accept a false sense of peace by sticking our heads in the sand. Instead of contributing to anything that separates us from God or God’s ideas (each other), we can actively examine our thoughts, notice when we are baited by thoughts not our own, and avoid the bait just as a wise fish swims away. Through this constant willingness to be alert, we can help ourselves and bring light and healing to others.

Bonnie Williams lives in Alexandria, Virginia.

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