Faith Lessons in Where the Wild Things Are

New Wineskins Blog, Oregon

The plot of the film version of Where the Wild Things Are is as simple as it is brilliant.  Feeling neglected and ignored by his older sister and mother, Max lashes out and, when his mom yells at him for his tantrum, he runs away in fear of his mom and his own anger, hiding in a thicket down the street.  He then finds an imaginary sail boat on the bank of a stream running through the thicket.  He boards the boat and sets sail, following the stream out to sea and eventually running aground on the land of the wild things.

No wonder the book was able to garner such a loyal following among adults and children alike.  What child hasn’t lashed out in anger, finding an uncontrollable “wild” side of themselves?  Who doesn’t remember those strong, confusing feelings of anger and the fear of feeling so out of control?  And, these days, what person hasn’t found themselves struggling with the modern tendency to repress those emotions?  Surely much of the book’s popularity owes to this tendency to dull the extremes of our emotional experiences through willful ignorance or self-medication.

Christians especially seem to find themselves prey to such repression, fearing that expressing negative emotions somehow betrays a lack of faith or goes against the biblical admonition to be joyful in all circumstances, as if we can trick God with a fake smile.  We forget that hope and despair are both ultimately longings for a new creation, longings for peace, justice, and the presence of God in a God-forsaken world.  The opposite of hope is not despair.  The opposite of hope is the unthinking acceptance of the status quo.  In a world full of sin and suffering, surrounded by resigned realists and head-in-the-sand hedonists, for the Christian to long for a better world, to be angry at injustice, to grieve over his or another’s loss, to cry out from the depths of abandonment and despair can be acts of profound faith in the God who promises to make all things new.

But we tend to skip over such emotions just as we skip over the Psalms that express such emotions (Ps 88 is especially challenging in this regard).  We are frightened at times by what we may find if we were to open our hearts and allow the Spirit to plumb its depths.  Too often this pseudo-piety betrays our own desire to hold on to the perceived possibilities of this world and to maintain some semblance of still having control.  But God Himself calls us to struggle and to long for the impossibile possibilities of His promises.  He calls us to hold Him accountable, like Abraham, Moses, and the psalmists, expressing even our anger, as numerous psalms show, when things don’t seem to go right while still trusting Him in faith.  He calls us to stop numbing the pain and ignoring the suffering of ourselves and others, and to experience the depths of our own suffering and, in so doing, open ourselves to the new life available to us through His grace.  A grace that listens to the cries of pain and longing, that meets us where we are in our anger, frustration, and despair, because through His Son, God has already experienced the full extent of our suffering and then some.

At the end of the movie Max misses his family and returns home.  He finds his mother joyful over his return, giving him a hug and a hot bowl of soup.  We can expect as much from our heavenly Mother.

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