It was back in the 1980s when our family moved to Pocatello from a town called Fair Oaks, a suburb of Sacramento, California, and the almond capital of the country.
Our youngest son, Greg, recently reminded us of memories of the home we left there. It sat on land zoned agricultural, so, with our family of five boys, we were happy to keep them busy doing the chores associated with our mini farm: harvesting those delicious almonds every year and, from time to time, caring for a cow, some pigs, a sheep, a goat, a horse, a pony, turtles, cats, chickens — and a faithful dog named Lady.
One thing we did not have were any rattlesnakes, for which we were grateful.
Our home was located not far from the Sacramento LDS Temple and the adjacent ward meetinghouse. One day when Greg was about 9 or 10, he recalled an afternoon when his Primary class was exiting the ward building and were excited to see a baby rattler close by. Some of the children grabbed sticks and teased the snake. Luckily, it was too young to bite.
On another hot, hot Sacramento summer day, our family traveled to church for Sunday services, and one of the boys spotted a huge, full-grown rattler sunning itself on the parking lot ahead of us. Against protests from Mother, Dad rolled down the window so we could drive close by and get a better look at the imposing snake.
These two incidents happened to remind us of an old, Indian legend titled, “The Little Boy and the Rattlesnake.” It went something like this:
A little boy was walking down a path, and he came across a rattlesnake. The snake was getting old, and he said to the little boy, “Please will you take me to the top of the mountain? I hope to see the sunset one last time before I die.”
The boy answered, “No, Mr. Rattlesnake. If I pick you up, you will bite me, and I will die.”
The rattlesnake said, “No, No, I promise. I won’t bite you. Please, just take me up to the mountain top one last time.”
The little boy thought about it and finally decided to do as the snake asked. He picked it up and held it carefully to his chest so as not to disturb it and carried it to the top of the mountain. There the two sat and watched the beautiful sunset together.
After the sun disappeared the snake said, “I’m cold and tired now. Will you take me home?”
Following the pleasant evening the two had had together, the boy felt safe picking the snake up again and holding it close to his chest. Down the mountain they went, and as they neared the bottom, the snake said, “I’m hungry,” so the little boy took the snake to his house and gave it some food and a place to sleep.
Next morning the snake said, “Please, little boy, will you take me back to my own home now?”
The little boy felt that he had been safe all this time, and the snake had kept its word, so he carefully picked it up, held it to his chest, and carried it back to its home hidden in the tall grass.
Just as he lowered the rattler to the ground, the snake unleashed its deadly venom into the boy’s arm.
The boy screamed and yelled, “You bit me! You bit me! Now, I will surely die!”
The snake smiled and casually slithered away as it said to the boy:
“You knew what I was when you picked me up!”
We all know that snakes rarely bite unless provoked or threatened. However, like Satan, they can get much too close to us. They are cunning and smooth.
Satan is that “Rattler” who tempts us with vices he knows may be our weaknesses. He lulls us into thinking all is well, and we far too often welcome him into our homes and into our lives.
As Christians we should be aware of the seven deadly sins that are Satan’s tools — his way of entering in and taking over our lives — if we let him. Those seven sins are: lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy, and pride.
As with the rattlesnakes, we know what they are, and we know what they can do to us, if we are not careful. Yet how often do we get too close to these temptations rather than quickly backing away — before we are bitten, sometimes even destroyed?
There is hope, however, through the Atonement of our Savior, Jesus Christ. If we are bitten, there is an antidote. With his help, through repentance, we can be healed from our mistakes and find peace and hope. We can keep moving forward. We can avoid the temptations of this world. We can stay away from the hiding places where deadly snakes lie in wait. We can shun temptations, and we can keep on the safety of the covenant path.
Let’s face it, this old world is full of poisonous snakes, so next time we see one or hear that familiar rattling sound, we need to be sure to quickly head the other direction!
Dean & Nancy Hoch are members of the Community Council of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.