When I was a growing up one of my, and my younger siblings, favorite games to play was what we called the "animal game." We would gather up all our favorite stuffed animals and put them into a huge pile and begin acting out some sort of story with each one as a character in our show. They always started to play along, but it usually ended up with me putting on some crazy play and they would sit back and watch the story unfold. They loved being an audience and I loved being the storyteller, unless my older brother happened to peek his head in the room and ask, "Aren't you a little old to be playing with those?"
I can remember the day when I was holding one of the ugliest stuffed animals we had in the house, a green, rough feeling pig that my mother had won at a fair many years before. I can still see the scene as we sat in my parent's room by the closet, which was a dark cave in my story. My littlest sister, who was about three years old, was sitting on the floor near me as I acted out the story, and during one part of the show I had the pig growl and jump toward her. It must have shocked her because she began to cry and backed away from the ugly pig.
"Don't worry, Christa," I reassured her, "it's not real."
"It is Real!" she cried. "It's Real!"
It took me a while to realize that she thought the name of the pig was Real and she was convinced that it was alive and was going to get her. For months after that she cried if she even saw the pig and so we had to hide the stuffed animal to keep her from panicking and saying Real was coming to get her.
It was about six months later when I finally coaxed her to pet the pig on the head. "See, it is not real. He won't hurt you. It was just a game we were playing and I made him growl. He is NOT Real."
With a slight hesitation, she reached out and patted the rough feeling pig. When she saw it did not move or do anything she carefully reached out and took the pig from me. A big smiled spread across her face as she held the pig. I sighed. I had finally overcome the evil I had committed by making it jump and growl at her. She shifted the pig in her arms and touched the mouth just under the snout and suddenly screamed. She threw the animal on the floor and ran away shouting, "It is Real! Real bit me!"
With a puzzled expression, I picked up the animal and felt near the mouth. I found a small hole underneath and a little wire stuck out from inside. It had pricked her finger, convincing her that the animal was indeed alive and Real. Somehow Real ended up in the trash that week and we never saw the homely stuffed animal again, much to all of our relief. For weeks we constantly had to assure Christa that Real was at the dump and never coming home.
I was thinking about this issue of "real" and was wondering how many of us think that certain things are real simply because of little circumstances that arise to convince us that what we believe is true. A look from someone who is having a bad day may make us think they do not like us. A comment from someone that is misunderstood, causing a grudge to come between two people simply because of a misunderstanding. The fact that someone does not say hello one day and we think they have something against us. It happens to all of us. Especially when we are having a particular bad, moody day and we automatically jump to conclusions because we feel particularly vulnerable.
All week long I was dealing with little issues between the children in my class. They were constantly coming up to me with complaints about this child doing this to them or informing me of something bad that someone else was doing. I grew very tired of the whining and complaining and began to tell that that they needed to get over it. It was not the end of the world. I was trying to teach them to deal with their own issues as they came up, to not constantly inform me of every bad thing that was happening. I mean, really, if someone makes a face at you it is not the end of the world. "Smile back," I would say. "It will all be fine in five minutes." What really matters is what God wants us to do with our life. None of the trifles in life will be remembered in a year, a month, or even a day later. I am not sure how much they understood, or chose to listen to, but it made me think that I need to follow my own advice. It will not really matter in a few days anyway. We have eternity to look forward to and all these trifle things will not matter in heaven. What will matter is that Jesus, our Lord and King, will be there and we will spend all of our time worshiping Him together in the best place of all. And that, my friends, is real.