“Peter gave himself up for lost, and shed big tears; but his sobs were overheard by some friendly sparrows, who flew to him in great excitement, and implored him to exert himself.” –The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter
Upon re-reading The Tale of Peter Rabbit, I was struck by a new revelation about this beloved, disobedient icon: Peter was really kind of wuss. It didn’t take very much for this bunny to throw in the towel. You’ve heard the story: Mrs. Rabbit needed to run errands, left the sisters in charge and forbade the children to go to Mr. McGregor’s Garden (where her husband was caught and cooked into a pie.) While his sisters were distracted on their blackberries Peter snuck out and ran straight to the forbidden garden. Once there, he ate too much, lost his loafers and got stuck in a net. Hope vanished and Peter gave himself up for lost. Loudly. With the big rabbit tears apparently.
As I glanced at the image of Peter’s corpse-like body which looked hot-glued to the net I recognized something: myself. I recalled times in my not-so-distant past when I was the one helplessly horizontal and utterly discouraged. While the girl in those Baylor pictures with the big bad hair would have singularly identified with the sparrow, now I know what it feels like to be on the needy end of the encouragement equation. What also took me no time to recognize was that while I have logged time in the net, I have never done so without the company of someone who was quick to listen and share in my distress.
Although I have been falsely accused of reading too much into things (You’ve seen the cartoon where God, watching a preacher sermonize on Sunday morning leans over to St. Peter and says, “Can you believe how much this guy is getting out of that one verse? I never meant any of that!”) there are some notable cues we can take from the birds in this story. First of all, the sparrows were first responders, they heard Peter’s cry and rushed to investigate. These friendly guys “flew to him in great excitement” when they heard his sobs rather than ignoring his very loudly-vocalized needs.
Also, the birds “Implored him to exert himself. ” I imagine that there was little in the way of opposable thumbs the sparrows had to offer. I mean, really, what tools did these birds have to help Peter? Nothing save intentional encouragement. Only Peter could free himself but he would never be free if he quit. Sometimes the stuck among us have simply lost heart to try. But if someone cared enough to arrive on the scene without condemnation but rather with a few words of earnest encouragement, change could surely take place. God can take our concern and liberate the lonely and stuck.
Just as the sparrows found Peter in his hour of need perhaps this will sentiment will find you. Even in a ridiculous over-interpretation of 32 words written 100 some odd years ago about a fully clothed rabbit whose mother uses and umbrella and buys currant buns. Really? Perhaps.
Conversely, if you are the strong one out there today don’t forget to lend an ear. Listen and if you do hear that sob today, fly swiftly and implore. Don’t think too much about it or you will talk yourself out of it. Perhaps all the hopeless struggler needs is the simple message that they will not become a pot pie today.
“He comforts us in all our troubles , so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” 2 Cor. 1:4