The Social Mores of Gerbils and its Impact on Biblical Interpretation or Something Like That . . . (#SmallWonder)

Teaching is the closest I get to extroversion, which explains why I (a fierce introvert) bottom out after every class.  When it’s going well I have a sense of flow.  Connected to the materials I’m presenting, I start to scat a little like a jazz singer, making free-associations, building and linking ideas together.  Sometimes this involves funny stick figure drawings on the blackboard, other times not. 

One day the other week I was trying to explain the incredible social divides bridged by the early house churches.  Referencing I Thessalonians I listed, “prominent women, Greeks, Jews and Gentiles” on the chalkboard.  

“These people wouldn’t normally have anything to do with each other,” I said, drawing a circle around the list. 

The class of Sophomores stared back at me, listless, silent. 

I felt like Eugene Peterson describes in his bible study session that led, eventually, to his ground-breaking gift of The Message translation,

          Galatians, Paul’s angry, passionate, fiery letter that rescued
          his congregation from their regression into culture slavery,   
          was on the table and nobody was getting it.  Sweetly smiling,
          they were giving more attention to stirring sugar into [their]
          Styrofoam cups than to the spirit words that pulsed in Paul’s
          metaphor’s and syntax.  It was obvious they weren’t getting
          it. (in Eat This Book:a conversation in the art of spiritual
          reading, p. 133)

“Putting these groups together,” I said, “would be like filling a whole room with cats and dogs.” 

But no, that example wasn’t exactly right. 

Pausing, I looked off into the distance just above the tops of my student’s heads, as I listened, inspiration came winging and landed on the tip of my outstretched mind.

“No,” I said, “you know what it’s like?”  Excitement grew in my voice.  “It’s like putting two gerbils in the same cage.  We got my son a gerbil for Christmas, then my daughter wanted one so badly we got her one too a few weeks after the first.  But, apparently, gerbils are highly territorial.  Introducing two gerbils from a different litter’s an incredibly complicated process.  So we built them a joint, but separated cage so they could get used to each other’s scent and share space without being able to fight.  But, the other day, one of the gerbils climbed over the divide and by the time we got there, the bigger gerbil had bitten off the smaller gerbil’s tail.  The little gerbil was running all around dragging her bloody stump behind her.”

“It was one of the grossest things I’ve ever seen,” I finished, with obvious delight.

The students were definitely listening now.  Many had their faces twisted, heads tipped to the side, in a questioning manner. 

“Well,” I added, backing off a little, “I guess the people in the early church weren’t biting each other, but . . .” then I paused again as a whole new wave of inspiration struck.

“Oh my gosh!” I added.  I was nearly shouting, “That’s exactly how Paul described it in one of the epistles.  ‘Stop biting and devouring one another,’ he tells them.  Yes, it IS like putting two gerbils in a cage.”

I remember memorizing that particular phrase from Paul’s letter to the Galatians as a high school bible quizzer, but a good twenty years passed between memorization and comprehension.  Those words floated in the cells of my brain like dandelion fluff, letters representing ideas until one day, in front of a classroom of thirty-three students, a concrete physical association caused them to take root and blossom into what Eugene Peterson describes as a “pop of delight.” 

Words took on flesh, ideas became image, a word picture was formed and I was so happy, so delighted.  We moved on then to the next topic at hand, but I carried that little “pop” of pleasure with me and feel it still today. 

May this joy – the joy of discovery, of unexpected connection and its accompanying wonder – be yours as you journey through each of your days.  No thing is too small, too trivial, too removed, to reach in and open the door of your heart.  

*   *   *

Welcome to the #SmallWonder link-up.

What if we chose to deliberately look for the small moments of wonder, the small sparks of presence, of delight or sorrow, of true humanity in which we meet God? 

That's my proposal - that we gather here each week to share one moment of Wonder from each of our days.  

You're invited to link-up a brief post about a small moment of wonder.  Don't worry if your post is too long, too short, or not just right - you're welcome to come as you are.  

While you're here, please do take a look around and encourage at least one other blogger with a comment.  


  1. LOVE this story! It is so empowering to have the Spirit put a great illustration right in your head while you're on-the-fly-teaching! Thanks for sharing yours!

  2. What an engaging, gross, and perfect Bible illustration for both teens and adults. It really drives the point home!

    Thank you for hosting another excellent link-up. Wishing you a blessed week.

    1. Thanks Jed, engaging and gross - I'll take it.

  3. That illustration will not soon be forgotten! Wonderful lesson for us all. It is always good to join you, Kelly!

  4. I'm cheering you on! It is an awesome thing when our knowledge, faith and instruction capture our student's attention and plant a seed - especially when it's with real life stories as simple as territorial gerbils! God wastes nothing!

    1. Yes, revelation around every corner. What fun. Thanks for commenting.

  5. You're bringing back gross memories for me, Kelly! ha. We used to be a gerbil family, and I remember when we bought a non-sibling gerbil pair once. We had to take them back to the store because of the fighting and get a more compatible pair. Lessons you learn the hard way. :) Sounds like you're a wonderful teacher!

    1. I had no idea gerbils had any complexity at ALL. Yes, I'm taking comfort in the knowledge that gerbils don't have a terribly long lifespan - especially in a house with two cats ;)

  6. Great, great example and it came from the real deal! You knew it and could be emotional about it because it was real to you. Kids can identify with emos and can get into gross too! God did well for you to get the kids to understand what you were teaching.

    1. Yes, it's all about connection, isn't it? Thanks for linking!

  7. Ah gerbils! Yeah... we did that. Our girlie was little and we bought her 'brothers' from the same litter so they would not be lonely and get along... except 'brothers' they were not. So we had several litters before we finally --uh, ran out of gerbils. ;)

    1. Yes, I've heard of "that" happening too . . . so far, I think (finger's crossed) we have two girls . . .

  8. Kelly, thank you for this memorable teaching...once we gerbils on the level ground at the foot of the Cross are all covered by His blood, all our sins forgiven--past, present, and future--we have His scent, the sweet aroma of heaven, forgiven children of God...amen! Many blessings to you ❤️

  9. did they get introduced eventually?