With Praise and a Sword

“Our false self demands a formula before it engages; our false self wants a guarantee of success; and mister, your aren’t going to get one. So there comes a time in a man’s life when he’s got to break away from all that and head off into the unknown with God. This is a vital part of our journey, and if we balk here, the journey ends.” John Eldredge

Being on Christmas break and not really knowing what day it is or where we are half the time has opened the door for lots of relaxing and movie watching. One of our favorites is the series of Narnia films. I think I love them more than my kids do, maybe it’s because I’m a grown up now and I can see in hindsight how important the stories are. I wish I had known them earlier.

In Voyage of the Dawn Treader we meet cousin Eustace, a spoiled little boy who mocks his cousins tales of Narnia and gets all his information from books. He puts all his hope into science and deductive reasoning. Needless to say, when he experiences Narnia and Aslan, everything changes.

Eustace is scared of what he doesn’t know. He spends his time trying to formulate a way out of strange situations, and when that doesn’t work, he simply mocks everyone that he deems inferior. He’s scared and confused by adventure. Narnia is the worst place for him because everything he experiences goes against how he has been trained to think. It’s also the best possible place for him, because Aslan refuses to leave the poor kid in his sad state. The redemption story of Eustace is a powerful one, but not without pain.

Thankfully, the young boy was with a group who didn’t dismiss the adventure. The Pevensie kids longed for Narnia when they weren’t there. Once experienced, it was something they wanted to go back to. Yes, it was scary and dangerous at times, but there was something there, someone there that made it all worth it. They longed to be with Aslan again.

As we enter a new year full of unknowns, let us not be afraid of heading off into the unknown with God. Avoiding new things or putting off hard decisions may seem safer, but at best it leads nowhere fast. It’s not blindly jumping and yelling YOLO! with our fingers crossed… it’s a conscious decision to follow Jesus at every turn. It’s a choice to push through difficulty or uncomfortableness and get to the healing on the other side. There comes a time when playing it safe just isn’t safe anymore. We aren’t heading off ill-equipped or without a compass… we have the greatest Guide ever.

This is quickly becoming my New Years battle cry:

“Let the high praises of God be in their mouth, and a double-edged sword in their hand.” Psalm 149:6

We aren’t exactly floating down the river on a pleasure cruise here… life is a battle, and a hard one at times. The false part of ourselves demands a formula and some guarantees before every venturing out into the unknown. Go without it. I want to be more like those kids in Narnia who craved the adventure in spite of the danger. With praise in my mouth and a sword in my hand.

Happy New Year everyone… armor up and enjoy it!

The Wrong Kind of Books

Image

“We owe it to our kids to give them a healthy dose of dark stories.”

That was the premise of an article I read recently by children’s author N.D. Wilson in Christianity Today magazine. He calls out us adults who instinctively raise an eyebrow at such ideas. In the same way a health food nut reads a food label looking for signs of high fructose corn syrup,  l have become accustomed to looking through what my kids read and watch for any signs of… darkness. I’m sensitive to it. I want them to be sensitive to it as well. But not sheltered from it. 

We took a trip to Disney World last year and tried out the Haunted Mansion ride. I had a feeling it wasn’t going to go very well, but at the same time, I didn’t want them to be afraid of a silly ride, so we went. My poor (6 year old at the time) came off with tears in his eyes. The ghost in the mirror at the end put him over the edge. I felt bad. There were plenty of kids smaller than him who were loving it. (Did I really want him to love it though?) Fast forward a year – he gets to go back with his dad. They went on the ride again. This time, he came off, completely unfazed, and said that he wasn’t scared. He also said that he didn’t want to go do it again because “there are too many dark things on that ride.” 

Yes! Small victory. We aren’t fearful of it but we recognize it for what it is. It’s a silly ride, perfectly fine for many, many people. He was able to share with his dad that it wasn’t good for his spirit and he didn’t like the way it made him feel. God revealed to me how I need to pray this as they grow. When faced with darkness or things that aren’t edifying for them, Lord give them the courage and discernment to walk away. Even if no one else does.

There’s a proliferation of pure evil in our culture today, it’s bold and shocking. I am stunned at times by what I see on TV. Evil for the sake of it. People flock to it. They run after the darkness.

And then theres the flip side.

Pretending there is no darkness, ignoring that conflict exists altogether. 

Raising kids in a conflict-free, criticism-free bubble doesn’t do anyone any favors. They’re going to fall down. They’re going to get teased. They’re going to make mistakes. I read about a school that banned the game of tag because it was dangerous. Lord help us.

“Shelter your children. Yes. Absolutely. But use a picnic shelter, not a lightless bomb bunker, and not virtual reality goggles looping bubblegum clouds. They should feel the wind and fear the lightning.” 

My boys are transitioning now. We watch Star Wars and I don’t freak out worrying what it may be doing to them. Instead, we have  conversations about why Anakin chose evil over good. The Bible is full of stories like this. What would David be without Goliath? What would the story of Daniel be without man-eating lions? In order to be brave, they need an understanding of danger.

In C.S. Lewis’ ‘Voyage of the Dawn Treader’, the young boy Eustace is raised on a steady diet of information-only books. He was utterly bankrupt when it came to discernment or feelings. When he walked smack into enemy territory, he didn’t even know it. 

 

“Most of us know what we should expect to find in a dragon’s lair, but, as I said before, Eustace had read only the wrong books. They had a lot to say about exports and imports and governments and drains, but they were weak on dragons.” C.S. Lewis, Voyage of the Dawn Treader

Straight into a dragon’s lair because he had been fed all the wrong information. He had been sheltered from the adventure, protected from all things dangerous, and as a result, didn’t even know when he was face to face with disaster. How tragic if we fail to show our children both sides of the adventure that surrounds us every day. There are crazy, wicked enemies out in the world and there is danger. We all need to be able to recognize the dragon’s face. Most importantly, we need to be able to recognize and call upon our Aslan, our Roaring Lion, our Jesus. 

“Since it is so likely that (children) will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage. Otherwise you are making their destiny not brighter but darker.” C.S. Lewis

We all need to be reading the right books.  

Not safe, but good.

“Ooh,” said Susan, “I thought he was a man. Is he – quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.

“That you will, dearie, and no mistake,” said Mrs. Beaver. “If there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or just plain silly.”                                        

“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.                                                                                                         

“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver, “Don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? Of course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.” 

We live in a safety-obsessed society. The mom in me appreciates and embraces this: helmets, which we never had as kids; seat belts, which we never wore; the “may contain nuts” label on food packages because people these days seem to be more allergic than 30 years ago; it’s great. Parents naturally want to protect their children. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve shouted “Be careful! Don’t get hurt!” as they play… I’d be rich. Safety is necessary.  Kids need to know that running with pointed scissors isn’t a good idea. They have to understand that chasing the ball into the street is dangerous. But what if this is all we teach them? What if this is all we ourselves have to hold on to? If the only thing we desire is to avoid risk at any cost?

I come back to this passage in the Chronicles of Narnia often. God is Holy. He is wild. The Lion of Judah isn’t a puppy. We wouldn’t want Him to be. He is fierce, protective, and powerful. A life submitted to Christ doesn’t guarantee a life in a plastic bubble free from harm. What it does guarantee is that the fears of this world cannot hold power over us. We want quick, effective formulas. I see Bible studies all the time that emphasize this. We are comforted by 3 step or 30 day formulas. What if the breakthrough God has for us comes in 2 days? What if it requires more than three easy steps? We want to understand the mystery, but are too afraid to let God really touch our deepest wounds or insecurities. It’s like wanting to go camping without the bugs. Or cook an amazing meal without messing up the kitchen. Or travel to a foreign country only to run to the nearest McDonalds. I asked myself: what if all this preoccupation with safety and comfort is causing me to miss the really good stuff that God has for me?

One of the great things about walking with Christ is that He invites us to go on the adventure. We are free to choose. If we decline, we may be safe for a time. If we go with Him, there will be risk. Until Aslan returned to Narnia, they were living in a perpetual winter under the White Witch. Winter, minus Christmas of course. In the final book, the children have traveled deeper and higher into Aslan’s country, farther than they ever imagined they would go. Afraid of being sent back, they are worried. Aslan reassures them they are home and that “the holidays have begun.”  He brought life back and he led them through to where they needed to be. It was anything but safe, but it was definitely good.

We can stay put in our ‘safe’ places and endure the long winter. Or, we can choose to go out with Christ into the imperfect, messy world and see just what He has in store for us. The decision to go with Jesus means we are going into some wild and risky places. God wants to get us out there but He wants us out there with Him. He loves us too much to let us slumber in our safe places, numb to the rest of the story. There may be a mountain. There probably won’t be an escalator up it. I’m learning to say ‘oh well’ and go anyway. There will be dirt and bugs and rocks in our way. I’m learning to deal with it because it is so much better to be out in the wild with God than to be safe in my self-made shelter alone with my 3-step book!