When I was in Kindergarten, my teacher was this wonderful, lively woman named Mrs. Owens, or Mrs. “O” and sometimes, “the Cheeto Monster.” She was like a second mother to me and I cried when I graduated out of her class. (I use the term “graduated” because we had a graduation ceremony and everything, topped with a cap and red sash.) Anyway, our class had a class pet, it was a brown and white rabbit named Sparky.
Sparky was my first pet ever. Well, the first one that wasn’t orange with a lifespan that only lasted the car trip home. I loved this rabbit and so I pretended that he was actually my personal pet and I was just kind enough to share him with my fellow classmates. Every morning I would race into our classroom and hang my “backpack” (a cloth bag that I decorated with markers) on a hook and then press my face against the cage to visit with Sparky. A few weeks into having our class pet, Sparky began to act strangely. He would grunt and throw tantrums at the entire class, charging at anyone who attempted to invade his territory. To my disappointment, he even took a few snaps at my fingers, but I told myself that bunnies always hurt the people they love most. (As I grow older, I sometimes feel like I tell myself that humans are that way as well.) I was sure it was just a phase, but Mrs. O was concerned that this wasn’t the best environment for Sparky and thought it would be better for him to be somewhere where he wasn’t constantly petted by a sea of sticky, gooey hands. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to take Sparky home. Another boy who already had a pet rabbit got to take him home.
“Sparky needs companionship,” Mrs. O told me as I said my tearful goodbye (I cried a lot in Kindergarten…some things don’t change). What she didn’t understand was that as a five-year-old, I believed that I could be the only companion Sparky would need.
This was the first time I had experienced losing something very important to me. I mourned the loss of my furry friend every morning and whenever I was given the “Wake-up Wand,” I always made sure to “wake-up” Sparky’s new owner last. A little while later, that little boy came into the classroom with big news. Sparky had given birth the night before. Turns out Sparky wasn’t a boy rabbit, he was a girl. A girl named Elizabeth, apparently. After that, I was a little relieved that Sparky had not gone home with me. I mean I have no idea how I would have reacted if my precious boy rabbit started shooting out baby bunnies. Those are some visuals a five-year-old never forgets.
Sometimes I think that as Christians we are so quick to remove the problem before trying to assess the situation. It’s like when something or someone doesn’t measure up to our impossibly high standards, we feel the need to remove this disagreement or tension like it is some cancerous mole that needs to be removed as quickly as possible. But that never seems to solve the problem, does it?
I think that sometimes I feel like I’m a Sparky: misunderstood, in the wrong place at the wrong time and trying to force myself to measure up to unrealistic expectations. These expectations seem to form around me and I can never live up to them so as a result, I’m just living a life disappointing everyone, especially me.
I know that I’ve also done my share of reflecting Sparky onto others – pushing what you want in a relationship onto the other person rather than accepting them for who they are. And even if we are able to remove this cancer, it never fully goes away, does it? You always have that scar to remind you that it existed in the first place.
Tell me, why is it so hard for us to face these issues head on? Is it because we’re afraid of allowing ourselves to be vulnerable or are we afraid to admit that we actually aren’t the ones in control?
I once heard of a church that was always looking for the answers to their church issues by examining the progress of the staff. If there was low attendance, that must be because the youth wasn’t encouraging their parents to come, and if the youth wasn’t bringing in their parents, it must be because the Youth Pastor isn’t doing a good enough job nurturing them. And so the church fired the Youth Pastor. Later on, another problem came up at this same church. People were complaining that the service wasn’t contemporary enough. The church leaders blamed the worship leader for singing songs that just didn’t give the right umph. And so again, the church fired another employee.
These problems never fully dissolve, do they? When you get rid of a problem, it doesn’t mean it’s gone or that you’ve solved it, it just means it’s in a different place now. And instead of empty seats and mellow music to worry about, there are new problems arising like bitter hearts and angry people; emotions that can’t be destroyed by a firing squad. Eventually the staff members began to live in fear of their performance being questioned or accidentally crossing the pastors. And tell me, who wants to live in that kind of fear? Before you know it, the church is no longer a safe place where people can input their passion and compassion. It is now a dictatorship. It might as well have a sign at the entrance that says, “Enter: No Mistakes Allowed.”
All this makes me wonder, how often do we push the blame away from ourselves? Are we gracious enough to accept responsibility and fix what we’ve helped to break or are we too quick to judge our brother’s speck while we’re swimming in a sea of planks? We have everything to lose when we try to solve these problems with our head. We miss out on developing relationships with the people that God has brought into our lives. We spend too much time disappointed that our Sparky didn’t turn out to be exactly who we had hoped to be and we pass him along without even attempting to fix the problem.
Have you ever thought what would happen if that was how God acted toward us? Could you ever hear him say, “Oh, Sarah has a biting issue and she doesn’t play nice with everybody…so I’m just going to focus all of my will and blessings onto someone else – someone more worthy of my love.”
If that was the case, none of us would make the cut. Then we would all just be misunderstood Elizabeths in a world that expects us to be the best Sparky we can be.