A few years ago, when our boys Jonah and Joel were still small and their lives were still bright with innocence, I told them a story. They had built a fort out of boxes in the basement of their grandparents’ house, and the three of us had tucked ourselves away in this dark cardboard cave with nothing but our imaginations, a blankie or two, and a flashlight.
So, with the flashlight in my face for dramatic effect I told them a story you might recognize about a mole and a river rat who had gone boating together. Mole had never been boating, and was excited to live the river life with Rat, and do all the things you do in a boat, which is not much of anything at all. They fished and ate and fished some more. And every night as Mole stared up at the stars, Rat told him adventure stories about the Wild Woods and Mr. Badger. These stories made Mole ache with longing to go explore the Wild Woods for himself and meet this Mr. Badger.
“One day,” Rat would tell him. “One day, but not yet.”
Well, it seemed like that adventure would never happen. Finally, Mole lost his patience, and following the ache in his chest, he snuck off on his own into the wild to find Mr. Badger’s house. At first, it really was a fun adventure. The woods were dark and beautiful, but as night came on the air got colder, until the trees began to shiver in the wind. Soon it was pitch black in the Wild Woods, and Mole started to feel alone, and scared, and then completely lost. He couldn’t see anything except the occasional glow of eyes in dark branches. The wind was howling and then came the freezing rain, and Mole began to cry.
With that, little Joel jumped up, busting the roof off of our cardboard cave and letting all the light in. “I’m done!” He said, “I’m going up stairs.”
“What do you mean, you are done? The story isn’t over.”
“I’m done too, Daddy.” Jonah said, following his brother to the stairs.
“I don’t understand. It’s a great story. It’s from one of my favorite books, The Wind in the Willows. We haven’t even made it to Mr. Badger’s house yet!”
“I don’t want to hear any more about those dark scary woods or Mole crying.” Joel said.
“Yeah, it was good until he went to the woods, Daddy.” Jonah said.
“But that’s just a small part of the story. Don’t you want to know how he got out of the woods?”
They both answered in unison as they climbed the stairs with a resounding, “Nope.”
I have been thinking of that moment a lot recently. That scene of both of them giving up on the story when everything was at its worst has stayed with me, because that has been my temptation over the past few years when it comes to the story I am living. I am sure to some degree we can all relate to that temptation.
We all have moments when the story we are living takes a dramatic negative turn. We suffer loss. We face betrayal. We experience bitter disappointment or heartache. We have moments when what seemed like a fun adventure lands us in the cold dark woods feeling terrified and alone. There is always this temptation to give up. There’s this temptation to give into the fear, the anxiety, or the helpless hopeless feelings, and to jump up in the middle of the story like Joel did, and say, “I am done!”
But what if we knew that those cold and dark moments, really were just moments? What if, even in the midst of the pitch-black wild woods, we could see that we are simply at a turning point? One scene, one page, one chapter, not the end.
I believe that knowing the overarching story we’re a part of gives us hope. I read the Wind and the Willows as an adult, and the moment I learned that the main characters were moles, rats, and badgers, I was aware that I was probably not reading a tragedy. I was certain that any dark and cold moments I encountered in the story would only make the ending that much brighter and warmer. Our boys on the other hand were clueless to the rules of storytelling. They had no idea that it’s faux pas to kill off the main character in a children’s book in chapter two.
When we don’t know the overarching story, those dark moments can feel really dark and difficult to endure. We need spoiler alerts to keep our hope alive. We need to be told and retold, that we are not living a tragedy.
And God knows that we need to be reminded of that, especially after the past two years here on planet earth — which is why all through scripture He tells us over and over again what’s going to happen.
Jesus was a walking talking spoiler alert.
Everywhere he went he went he gave away the ending. He called it good news, and that good news was that the kingdom of heaven was breaking into the mess of this world. And everywhere Jesus went he showed us what that would look like. He opened blind eyes and deaf ears. He made broken legs and broken hearts whole again. He brought the dead back to life, because that’s how the story ends. Nothing we face right now is an ending. Not even death itself is an ending. The end is life.
Don’t give up on the story. In Christ, life is a comedy not a tragedy. My reason to hope is a spoiler alert.
Every tear wiped away. Heaven and earth made new. Resurrection and life. And that’s a good story.