There were few things I loved more when I was younger and in school than going to the zoo. That was always my favorite field trip. We’d load up in the usual yellow bus and bounce our way downtown to the best zoo in the world.
We’d spend all afternoon running from exhibit to exhibit, knocking on the glass of the gorillas, pressing our noses up against the aquarium’s glass tunnel, and trying to milk the cow in the petting zoo. It combined the best of both the outside and the inside. It gave tangibility to those distant places from which these animals had come.
Today, walking through that same zoo with my family I couldn’t help but hope they would enjoy the trip as much as I used to. Finally, after years of trying, my oldest wasn’t too scared to go into the aquarium. He was ready and willing to enter it’s dark recesses to “find Nemo”. In previous visits he would beg to leave as soon as our stroller hit the front entrance all the way until the end. We weren’t sure what bothered him or why. Maybe it was the dark hallways, the crowds of people, or that maybe he didn’t realize that the animals couldn’t escape their protective glass. Whatever it was, he overcame it once he had a goal in mind.
It wasn’t until I was home and looking back on the day that I realized this is a tendency in our spiritual lives. There are times when God puts something in front of us that looks dark and scary. We fear what lies within and before we’ve even entered the trial we beg for a return to the comfortable.
If we are brave enough to enter the mission laid before us, suddenly, all the little obstacles become more vibrant in the darkness that surrounds us. Like a child who is afraid of the shadows caused by his nightlight, we jump at the smallest twitch from an unknown source.
The problem is…we know ourselves too well. We know our fears, our imperfections, our favorite sins, our failings. We know our frailty as a soul most powerfully when presented with an opportunity to grow. From transparent cages ominous and friendly things alike watch our every step.
Too scared to stick around to find out which one is watching we dart for the emergency exit. And that’s okay, God gives us those outs. He purposely places evacuation points for us throughout our mission. Of course, His desire is that we see them through but He still allows us to choose how long it will take for us to get through it.
Isn’t funny though, that even in those dark places of the unknown, if we have a specific mission like ‘find Nemo’, the obstacles don’t matter as much anymore. Like St. Terese’s ‘Little Way’ (to do little things with great love). Suddenly, when we find ourselves confronted with a situation, we remember our goal, our mission. It is up to us to choose if we carry out that mission and offer it up in great love. Once we know the objective it becomes easier to choose the way of virtue. If we see the light at the end of the tunnel we are more likely to strive toward it. Once it is in our sights we can barrel on through and actually enjoy the mission God has given us. We look at virtue with a smile and vice as a contained entity.
What seemed so far out of our reach now becomes possible. The far off lands of our potential are brought before our eyes. In these small places, God shows us part of His plan. He brings the potential of our heavenly life and gives us a direction, a mission, to help guide us closer to Him.
With direction comes peace.
So what are we afraid of? If God is the one designing the mission, laying it out, and guiding us through, what have we to fear?
He is not there to force us through a traumatic test which we must pass on the first try. No, He is there with us to serve as guide. If we happen to get distracted or linger at a certain dilemma, vice, or virtue He will gently guide us back to the wider goal. If we freak out and say we are not able to see it through He will lovingly accept our will.
Does this mean He gives up?
In fact, most likely this same situation will present itself over and over again. It is because this mission is meant to draw us to Him, to virtue, to help us adhere to the goal and finally achieve it.