Christopher Robin came slowly down his tree.
“Silly old bear,” he said, “what were you doing? First you went round the spinney twice by yourself, and then Piglet ran after you and you went round again together, and then you were just going round a fourth time–“
“Wait a moment,” said Winnie-the-Pooh, holding up his paw.
He sat down and thought, in the most thoughtful way he could think. Then he fitted his paw into one of the Tracks…and then he scratched his nose twice, and stood up.
“Yes,” said Winnie-the-Pooh.
“I see now,” said Winnie-the-Pooh.
“I have been Foolish and Deluded,” said he, “and I am a Bear of No Brain at All.”
“You’re the Best Bear in All the World,” said Christopher Robin soothingly.
“Am I?” said Pooh hopefully. And then he brightened up suddenly.
“Anyhow,” he said, “it is nearly Luncheon Time.”
So he went home for it.
– A.A. Milne, Winnie the Pooh
Children and adults the world over know all about Winnie-the-Pooh and his friends, either from A.A. Milne’s books or from dozens of movies and TV adaptations featuring the cherished characters. From their original publishing in 1926 to the present-day they have become symbols of childhood simplicity and imagination, friendship, and wordplay.
Pooh, a stuffed bear, always seems to get into some mischief, usually based on his being not the cleverest of characters, but being very motivated by a kind heart, a desire to be courageous, and a strong greed for his favorite food: honey. He is usually rescued from the worst of his scrapes by his owner and close friend, a little boy named Christopher Robin (based on the author’s own son).
In the scene above, Pooh and his friend Piglet–a stuffed pig–have been following a fearsome beast around in a circle by tracking its footprints in the snow. This fearsome beast is an imaginary creature they both staunchly believe in, called a “Woozle”.
In the end, Christopher Robin, who was watching from up in a tree, reveals that the footprints they were following were their own, and that there was no Woozle after all. Pooh feels very foolish until Christopher Robin’s assurance gives him back his simple pleasure, and his excitement for Luncheon Time.
As we grow up, it is tempting to be very Adult and Complicated about our relationships with God. Countless books take apart intricate theologies, argue various points of interest, and analyze Scripture from cover to cover. And none of these things are inherently bad; knowledge can be a very good thing, and can lead to a deeper understanding when applied as wisdom.
But in the example above from Winnie the Pooh, which I had the great pleasure of reading again to a pair of children over the weekend, I was struck by the simplicity of a few things. First, Pooh’s admission of foolishness. Second, Christopher Robin’s admission of love and admiration for Pooh, despite his superior understanding of how silly Pooh really is. And third, Pooh’s acceptance of that love and his excitement for something new.
If only we could all be Pooh, right?
In a way, though, that is what our Creator invites us to. In the verse from Matthew at the top of this post, Jesus says, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”
Children are not stupid, but they are simple; their devotion is based on an extraordinary trust that they take to naturally. Pooh doesn’t question the motives of the little boy who owns him and loves him. He doesn’t ask Christopher Robin to explain himself, or refuse to accept the compliment, or outline the reasons why Christopher Robin is wrong in his analysis of Pooh. He doesn’t even puff up with Christopher Robin’s words and allow them to make him vain. Pooh simply accepts Christopher Robin’s words at face value and allows them to brighten his spirits and set him on a course for joy.
It is possible, even with our very Adult and Complicated lives, to do something similar. When we are faced with our own foolishness–something that happens more than any of us care to admit–we can cling to the knowledge that we have a God who doesn’t pay us empty compliments or mock us for being stupid. He loves us with a fierce love, despite our flaws and our endless questioning of ourselves. He covers us with loving words to fight our insecurities. And, when we take His words and His love at face value, we can refocus our hearts and our minds on joy. Even if it isn’t Luncheon Time.
As I’ve tried to make clear in this series, none of these stories is a perfect picture of the relationship between God and human beings. Pooh and Christopher Robin and the tales they represent are sweet fictions with truths at their core. But, as with most stories, I believe there is much we can learn from the example of a silly old bear and the boy who loves him.
QUESTIONS for REFLECTION
1) When you do or say something foolish, what is your first response? To punish yourself, or rationalize it away, or try to hide or run from it?
2) When you think of approaching God like a child, how do you picture that? What images from your own childhood does that conjure up, whether good or bad?
3) If God were to give you encouragement right now–straight from His lips to your ears–how do you think you would respond? Would you accept what He says? Would you be tempted to argue, or turn away? Would you want to puff up or be vain about it? Why do you think you would respond that way?
Childhood can be a fraught subject for many. It is often the foundation upon which some of our greatest joys, fears, sorrows, and pleasures were built. But the stories we hear in childhood often shape the way we think about the world and about God later in life. The more accustomed we are to hearing something, and seeing ourselves in it, the more it becomes part of our psyches.
This week, try to think of other stories that formed your worldview as a child. It could be books, movies, TV shows, stage plays, or tales from oral storytelling. What were the narratives from childhood that you can trace back to your understanding of how the world works, either for better or for worse?