We took a trip to the zoo yesterday. I have to admit, I love the zoo. Probably more than my kids. I love watching the monkeys interact like schoolchildren on the playground. I love seeing the penguins waddle so bumbling and slow on land and then dash into the water and swim like lightning. I love talking to the bears as they come as close as they can, and I pretend they’re really listening and that they understand me in some way, when I know they’re really just smelling the stash of Oreos that I just pulled from my pocket. But what I truly love, more than anything else, are the lions.
We tend to visit the animals in the same order. We shuffle through the caves that house fish and turtles, alligators and poison frogs. We jump over puddles and hold our nose through the steamy aviary. Then it’s on to marvel over those creepy sloths and the fruit bats that fascinate, and then laugh at the otter clowns. We turn the corner and my heart starts beating a little faster. Down a small hallway, the doors to the lion exhibit stand and beyond them, the lions. I start envisioning what I would do if a lion got loose. I make sure I’ve got eyes on all the kids and that they’re safe at my side. And then, before I step through the doors I give in to my slight obsessive compulsive nature and make sure to peek through the window- just in case. And there they are. Behind 2 inches of glass they stand or sit or lie. Three of them. Sometimes sleeping and sometimes staring in fixed gaze at some bird in the next exhibit that they’d love to get their paws on. Beautiful and majestic. With fuzzy chins, paws the size of dinner plates, and enormous yellow eyes that when they finally look at you seem to pierce you to the heart.
Once, I heard them roar. It was one of the most exhilarating and terrifying moments of my life. I had just entered the zoo’s doors when a sound unlike any I’d ever heard began bellowing, rattling windows and knees. My first instinct was to run. But as soon as I realized what it was and that it was unlikely that I’d be eaten any time soon, I ran to the lion enclosure. By then they had stopped but I’ll never forget that sound. Deafening is the word that comes to mind. When they say you can hear a lion roar from 5 miles away, they aren’t kidding.
But for some reason, my kids aren’t as impressed as I am. In the same small area of zoo just past the windows that keep 500 lb. lions contained and away from my tasty flesh, lies a small area of fake rocks with buttons that turn on little light-bulbs in man-made clefts. If you look inside you can see pictures of all sorts of animals that also call the African plains their home. So naturally, as soon as the doors open, all 3 children glance and the lions and make a beeline for the buttons. Try as I might, no amount of exclaiming, persuading, “ooh”-ing” and “aah”-ing can tear them from the little holes in the rock. Did I mention there are no real animals to be seen?
As I was recounting this to Honeybun tonight I heard Him.
“Your kids,” He said, “They’re you.”
And I knew just what He meant. How many times have I substituted the imposters for the real thing? How often do I run past the awe-inspiring, jaw-dropping real-ness of Him and the abundant life that He offers and instead, run to some man-made version of “happiness,” “success,” or “truth” to find what my soul craves? Why do I ever think the next house, the next job, the next season of life will fully satisfy when the author of true satisfaction stays unnoticed or sadly, ignored behind me? Do I too, press my little nose up to the things I want to see- all very nice and entertaining things, but things that pale in comparison when set beside the lion-like awesomeness of Him?
How silly it seems when I step back and consider. Because side-by-side there is no comparison. One far outweighs the other. Only I’m too distracted, too tempted, too weak, and too stubborn to tear my eyes away.
But then in His graciousness and love, He roars.
And for a moment, I take my eyes off those pretenders and fix my eyes on what is unseen in the natural but plain as day to my spirit:
It’s all about Him, this lion King.
And every time I forget that and every time I run right past Him to something more shiny and new, He’ll roar His loving roar, and beckon me home.
“You would not have called to me unless I had been calling to you,” said the Lion.
―C. S. Lewis – The Silver Chair
“But you shall meet me, dear one,” said Aslan.
“Are -are you there too, Sir?” said Edmund.
“I am,” said Aslan. “But there I have another name. You must learn to know me by that name. This was the very reason why you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there.”
― C.S. Lewis – The Voyage of the Dawn Treader