When we think of that fancy word Discipleship, let’s not picture learned men in crisp suits, or bored hours spent bowed over a table with a checklist. Let’s think of Pooh and his friends. Do you remember the story of Pooh eating too much and getting jammed in Rabbit’s front hole? It’s the one with that quaint picture of a grassy hill and the top half of a yellow bear, who joins paws with a blond-haired boy who’s pulled elastic-tight by a long line of rabbits, squirrels, and mice.
Wait. That’s the way things are?
That picture doesn’t seem to match up with the time I lent someone an ear and got gossiped about a week later. I’ve taken on jobs I didn’t really have time to keep up with, I’ve acted stupidly, nursed bitter memories; I’ve been misunderstood, used; and frankly, I don’t know if I have the energy, nerve, or desire to try again. I see no lovely forest and cute animal friends.
But upon closer inspection, we’ll find something else in the tender Pooh stories. If we look, we can see ourselves in their Forest, and perhaps we’ll discover here what’s holding us back from the freedom and joy of giving Love.
If we walk with Pooh through the forest, the first thing we’ll see is a large hole in a grassy bank. Pooh bends over and calls, “Is anybody home?”
Do you hear the “sudden scuffling noise?” Then all is quiet. Sudden scuffling plus quiet equals—inconvenienced.
Then for good measure, Rabbit calls out, “No!” and tries to disguise his voice. Pooh prods, Rabbit pretends. Pooh prods, Rabbit hems and haws. Finally, Rabbit has to invite Pooh in, or else he’ll look rude. Pooh stays until he’s emptied Rabbit’s honey and milk. And Rabbit is polite. Rabbit is very polite. Rabbit is so polite that we can almost feel the pressure of his breath while he’s holding it in. But Rabbit tries his best.
Sometimes I do try my best. Or at least I try to try my best. Sort of. Then my daughter spills paint all over her favorite book and yells, “MOMMY!” Or my husband’s car breaks down and I have to go and get him. Just like Pooh gets himself jammed in Rabbit’s hole on his way out. And there’s a funny little picture in the book that shows Pooh’s round backside bulbing out of the hole from the inside, while Rabbit is still holding up his empty can of condensed milk with a very round-eyed and disbelieving look on his face.
Then we have the stuck-scene. Pooh fumes that it’s because Rabbit’s door isn’t big enough. My daughter laments that I should have reminded her to put the cap on the paint jar. A person I’m befriending asks why, why can’t I pick her up in ten minutes?
Then Rabbit hops away to get help. That wonderful word that feels like a sigh and a yell at the same time. Help.
We often slap that label onto our foreheads: We think we are the Help. The Savior. Is it any wonder that we expect so much of ourselves?
But Rabbit hops away and gets Christopher Robin, who makes everyone feel better, who croons to Pooh that he’ll slim up soon, who reads to Pooh from a Sustaining Book. And Rabbit? Rabbit is inside, hanging his laundry on Pooh’s dangling legs. He is making use of the situation. Is Rabbit really being a friend?
That question can be answered with another question: What about the guy in Jesus’ Story of the Talents, the one the master only gave one talent to? The others got more stock to invest than he did. He only had one unit of currency. And that was okay. But then he crept away from the others who had more to give, because he was scared to death of his master’s expectations, and he didn’t do anything with it at all.
And Rabbit? Rabbit was given the one small talent of Creativity. He doesn’t hide: he trades it in and gains Patience and Energy. His heart relaxes from his satisfied need to be industrious in his housework. And thus we see a bunny grow from a hesitant friend to a cheerful helper who calls his “friends and relations” to join Christopher Robin, in that well-remembered picture of the tug-of-war rescue effort which swells to a high and glorious POP! and a very happy, freed bear.
Maybe we only have one unit of currency. Maybe we don’t have much maturity yet. Maybe we have a selfish streak. Maybe we don’t have much time or energy. Maybe more than a half hour of picking through a Bible study booklet with an argumentative new friend would send us to the bathroom cabinet for a sedative. Maybe taking that younger guy for a ride every time he wants one would make us lose our already short tempers.
Grace and Truth says it is better to listen to a person for ten minutes than to not listen for three hours.
Jesus delights in reading to our Pooh, untiring, while we hang our laundry on those fur legs and accomplish little more than keeping our mouths closed. And that’s okay. Like Rabbit. Rabbit won. Rabbit passed the test. Rabbit, as well as our other dear friends in the Wood, got the blessing of participating in the most important gift in the world: Love. Without it we have nothing. With it, we have everything.
You can do it. Your Teacher is delighted with your ten minutes, your three-inch temper. Leap into the air, Rabbit. Your Christ will make you fly, and your friends will be many.
Discipleship is the passion of GreenTree and our goal for the New Year. Are we even sure what it means? It’s a word that sometimes sounds boring, always sounds theological, and is in danger of making us wince.
When Jesus tells us that His commands are not burdensome, we humans strain over weighty church-words that don’t seem to have anything to do with us, and we scratch our heads. We do feel burdened, and we sometimes wonder what Jesus meant with the yoke-is-easy thing and the abundant-life stuff.
A few days ago I was looking at cute Winnie the Pooh pictures in my daughter’s collection by A. A. Milne, and I chuckled at myself, and my grown-up plans and adult stresses. Here are a bunch of little talking animals in the Forest that have more sense than I do. They even do discipleship, but they aren’t bogged down with check-lists and guilt trips. This lovely story, told by a father to his son, gives me a picture of the D-word that changes everything.
All the animals in the forest are simple, with a child’s crude understanding of how things are supposed to work in their world. Rabbit manages to keep an image of having his wits together but can’t always feel completely generous; Owl, sitting high up in his tree house and offering wisdom to the animals who pass by, doesn’t know how to spell; and Pooh himself, ever-ready for adventure and ever-hungry for honey, lives under the identity that makes him perhaps the lowliest of them all: “Bear of Very Little Brain.”
But this little bear, for all his slowness of brain, has a Friend who lifts him up to the highest stair of his love and esteem. That Friend is a human boy named Christopher Robin. He’s the son in the beginning of the book who listens to his father tell the story of all the animals, and he’s also the boy inside the story, sharing in each part.
The presence of Christopher Robin is felt in a quiet way everywhere. He’s the sort of Big Brother of the forest. The door signs and notices among the homes in the woods show his handwriting. It’s Christopher Robin who comes to the Six Pine Trees and helps in the search for the lost Pooh, Piglet, and Rabbit. And in the very first chapter of the book, it’s Christopher Robin whom Pooh goes to for help when his lust for honey lands him in the gorse-bush. That honey-hunger always makes Pooh’s tummy too pudgy and gets him into all sorts of messes. From the very first, Pooh sees a bunch of bees in a tree, climbs straight up, cracks a branch, and crashes more than sixty feet into a prickly bush.
Pooh says, “It all comes of liking honey so much. Oh, help!” And naturally he goes to Christopher Robin’s house.
Pooh’s Friend and Guide throws no accusing stones, gives him no outline to follow for fixing his silly behavior. When Pooh asks Christopher Robin for a blue balloon with which to disguise himself and float up to the honey-laden tree, Christopher Robin asks Pooh, “Wouldn’t they notice you underneath the balloon?” but gives Pooh the balloon anyway.
The boy watches, and smiles, and encourages, while Pooh reasons and figures with his little mind and then rolls himself in the black mud so that he can pretend to be a dark cloud under the sky-colored balloon. Of course, the bees start stinging poor Pooh and he needs help getting down. Christopher Robin laughs in his heart, muttering, “Silly old Bear!”
But he loves Pooh, through all Pooh’s proud songs and falls and scratches and honey-searches and his crashes into holes. Pooh is cute and lovable and important, for one reason: he glows from the light reflected in the boy’s loving eyes.
Those of us who have accepted the gift of God’s Son are being discipled at this very moment, by One much greater than any Christopher Robin. He sits outside our little world, there with his Father who wrote our history, talking together about us, chuckling over us, holding us. He lives, too, inside our stories, always ready to help, letting us try and fail and picking us up when we land into a thorn-bush. Sometimes he waits for us to run to the other end of the forest to find him; and he is there. Many times he shows up alongside us as we are hurling pine cones at each other or trying to figure out what to do about our problems. Always he teaches us. Never does he leave us. Forever he is patient with us.
So, while we’re trying to figure out whether to camp on Jesus’ command to “Go into all the world and make disciples” and take on this elusive Discipleship Project, we might not realize that we’re part of it, already. The Teacher is here, with us, in our own Hundred Acre Wood. In the end, it’s not some project. It’s just life. The life he shares with us, and the love he teaches us to give as we share with each other, learn together, and bumble through the forest on each new adventure. The D-word is as important as life itself. The call from Jesus is real. The practice is hard work, but simple, as natural as breathing and having children. The reward is life, and love. The Example is the One who wrote history and lives within it. We can just ask Pooh, and Rabbit, and Piglet. They’ll get Christopher Robin and help us go and catch a Heffalump, and we’ll receive much, much more.