WORD FROM THE PASTOR: Think Happy Thoughts!
Peter Pan has been one of the most enduring of all children’s stories since it first appeared on stage in London a century ago. The story was fixed in the imagination of my generation by the classic television production with Mary Martin and by the animated Disney film. Rides at the Disney theme parks further reinforced children’s love for this magical tale of fairy dust and pirates. In more recent years, at least four major Peter Pan films have been released–the Disney sequel Back to Neverland, Hook (which imagines what would happen if Peter actually did grow up), a new live-action version, and most recently Finding Neverland, a fictionalized account of the story’s origins. The story still has the power to captivate people.
One of my core convictions is that the great children’s stories have spiritual messages hidden in them–that the simplicity of a childhood tale often communicates profound wisdom about life and God. If that’s true, then in Peter Pan–one of the most beloved of childhood tales–we ought to be able to find some spiritual truths. And certainly we can! As I think about the story, three pieces of wisdom stand out:
–The importance of perpetual childhood. Peter Pan is, of course, the boy who never grew up. On one level, that’s not exactly something for us to emulate. Immaturity is not an attractive trait. A popular book of several years back discusses men who suffer from “Peter Pan syndrome” and the pain they inflict on their wives because of their refusal to assume adult responsibility. Growing up is hard, but it’s something we have to do, or we bring havoc upon ourselves and those around us.
Yet there also is one way in which we are to be perpetually childlike–and that’s in our relationship with God. “Unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of Heaven,” Jesus says (Matthew 18:2). We need to put aside our grown up sense of independence and acknowledge our dependence on God; we need to put aside our grown-up cynicism and embrace a child’s sense of wonder. I do not want to be childish–that’s a terrible burden to impose on those around me. But I do want to borrow a leaf from Peter Pan and remain always childlike, especially when I stand before God my heavenly Father.
–The saving power of faith. My favorite moment in Peter Pan was always when the audience claps to save Tinker Bell from death. “If you believe in fairies, clap your hands.” The faith expressed by the clapping brought Tinker Bell back to life. Finding Neverland suggests that even in “real life”, believing can overcome the power of death.
As Christians, we believe that faith indeed has the power to save. “We hold that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the law.” (Romans 3:28). What transforms us from death to life is our faith relationship with the One who died and rose again for us. Faith truly can deliver us from death–“faith is the victory that overcomes” (I John 5:4). It’s not just faith in anything, of course–it’s faith in the risen Christ.
–The power of a “happy thought”. In Peter Pan, having a “happy thought” is what enables the children to fly. This is one of the most profound insights in the entire story–that beautiful thoughts can lift us above the cares and problems of life and carry us into another realm.
In the film “Collateral”, Jamie Foxx’s cab driver character keeps a picture of a beautiful tropical island clipped to the sun visor of his car–so that he can look up at it continually while he drives. “I take a vacation twelve times a day,” he explains at one point. That island picture is his “happy thought”–it carries him above the daily drudgery of a job he’d rather not be doing.
For Christians, the most powerful “happy thought” is the crucified and risen Lord. The lesson we read just a few days ago from Colossians 3:1-2 says: “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” If we fix our minds on Jesus Christ, we will be lifted above the worries of this life and carried to another place–the realm of God. Not a Neverland but an Everland!
Actually, Jesus Himself had a “happy thought” that carried Him through His suffering. An illuminating verse in Hebrews says: “For the joy that was set before Him He endured the cross, despising its shame...” (Hebrews 12:2) While Jesus was undergoing horrific pains of body and soul, He kept His mind upon the joy that lay at the other end of His suffering. Certainly that joy involved resurrection and ascension into glory...but I think His joy also involves seeing you and me delivered from sin and brought into God’s family. A gospel song says, “When he was on the cross, we were on His mind.” I think Jesus’ happy thought was you.
And now He is our happy thought! By focusing on Him, we can be lifted about this world and get through days of difficulty!
There may be a reason why Peter Pan is so perennially popular–because it depicts some fundamental truths about life. May we be perpetually childlike–may we be filled with faith–and may “happy thoughts” of Jesus enable us to soar in the presence of God!
God loves you and so do I!