“Aslan,” said Lucy, “you’re bigger.”
“That is because you are older, little one,” answered he.
“Not because you are?”
“I am not. But every year you grow, you will find me bigger.”
(Prince Caspian, Chapter 10)
I lay on my bunk bed at boarding school in Ethiopia. My bunkmate stirs below me. I wind my musical Raggedy Ann doll over and over, hoping to get some sleep. Sleep does not come. I rehash the day. Thoughts swirl: “I did a bunch of wrong things. Maybe that’s why I can’t sleep. I should confess my sins. Hey God, I’m sorry for all the bad things I did today. Please forgive me.” Still no rest for my eyes and tired body. I go into a bit of a panic. “Maybe I didn’t mean it for real when I prayed the magic prayer asking God into my heart. If I did mean it, I would not be so naughty.” I whisper the same thing for the umpteenth time, “Please come into my heart. I really mean it this time. I will be better tomorrow.” Still nothing. I lay there wide-awake. My mind happily drifts to earlier in the evening, when my dorm mother read us another chapter in the story of Narnia and especially Aslan, a loving lion who makes everything good and right in a strange land, and seems to adore children and even play with them. “I love Aslan. I wish God was like Aslan. Why can’t He be?” As I finally drift off to sleep, resting in the comfort of the lion who loves children, I have a flicker of hope: “Maybe He is.”
For decades, Santa has flooded the Christmas season. A jolly man with a jolly heart. A man who rewards good behavior with toys and naughty behavior with “a lump of coal.” We all know of him. Believe it or not, I had a friend who “prayed to Santa” all year and confessed her sins, much like I did with God as a young girl. After all, how different are they? “He (Santa) sees you when you’re sleeping. He knows when you’re awake. He knows if you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake. YOU BETTER WATCH OUT…Santa Claus is coming to town.” It is eerily similar to the Sunday School song from my childhood: “Be careful little eyes what you see, for the Father up above is looking down below, so be careful little eyes what you see.” Both of them are watching. You better watch out.
More recently, Santa’s Elf (on the Shelf) has taken off as a new family tradition. If you’re not familiar, this Elf (which comes in different sizes and even sexes in the form of a cheaply made elf doll that will set you back 30 bucks), is dispatched from the North Pole at the start of Advent. He or she enters homes to keep a watchful eye on the children, ensuring good behavior during the rough parenting patch when kids are over-sugared and over-excited for Christmas. His or her “job” is to make sure they belong on Santa’s “nice” list. You better watch out!
I loved celebrating Santa with my children (we just dug out Rachel’s letter from the North Pole) and might currently have an Elf on the Shelf if I still had littles. But as you read above, and this is the point: I believed in a “you better watch out” God very early and sadly, it continued well into adulthood. God was no different than Santa or Elf on the Shelf. He was up there watching my every good and bad behavior, ready to reward or “smite” me for each one, his main goal to get me to behave. It’s not hard to figure out what my relationship with Him was like because of this. I was filled with and acted out of fear and guilt. I hid from Him, or at least (fruitlessly) tried to…who wouldn’t? I struggled to feel close, spending much energy and time on my external, visible behavior, hoping that it would be enough, trying to avoid that proverbial “lump of coal,” God’s disapproval of me. My internal craving for love and belonging was completely sacrificed on the external “behavior management” altar.
Enter the stories of Narnia and a reunion with Aslan as the mom of four kids. I found three-hour radio theater dramatic renditions absolutely a must-buy if you have kids) of these stories that I loved as a child. I could kill two birds with one stone: share this amazing lion with my own children and at the same time, keep them quiet on long car rides (keeping it real people). As I came to reconnect with Aslan, I found even more so that he is wise, playful, generous, kind, mysterious, terrifying, magnificent, beautiful and unconditionally loving all at once. He is the one who I longed for my whole life. He is too good not to be true.
I had finally found the answer to that hopeful thought I had as a child. God is not like Santa. God is not like the Elf on the Shelf. God is not ultimately concerned with “behavior management.” God is like Aslan. God is wise. God is playful. God is generous. God is kind. God is mysterious. God is terrifying. God is magnificent. God is beautiful. God unconditionally loves and He unconditionally loves me. Period. His agenda is a loving, intimate, close relationship with me. He loves me because of who He is, not how I behave. He actually can’t help Himself. True, lasting change will come, but it will be born FROM of a place of love and acceptance, the inside out, not FOR love and acceptance, the outside in.
What relief! What freedom! Even as I write this, “you better watch out” is quieted again and my heart settles down with a big inner sigh. A long deep breath of safety and belonging. Yes. Yes. Yes. This is what I long for. This is a line I can get in, a lap I can climb up onto and take pictures of every day for a lifetime! My flicker of hope so long ago, “Maybe He is,” is a burning light of hope that shouts, “YES. YES HE IS.”
P.S. I have told people that, as a child, I loved Aslan more than I loved Jesus (see Ethiopia Tikdem post). I found out that a concerned mother once wrote C. S. Lewis on behalf of her son, Laurence, who, having read The Chronicles of Narnia, became concerned that he loved Aslan more than Jesus. In his response, Lewis offered this relief:
“Laurence can’t really love Aslan more than Jesus, even if he feels that’s what he is doing. For the things he loves Aslan for doing or saying are simply the things Jesus really did and said. So that when Laurence thinks he is loving Aslan, he is really loving Jesus: and perhaps loving Him more than he ever did before.”