Recently we explored the story of Finding Nemo with some children. It is a fun story with a lot of strong themes. Dory is a fish with short-term memory loss who is confused and experiences the same event several times in a few minutes as she forgets she has already been there. She forgets and gets confused but sometimes something important sticks in her mind and she remembers at a crucial moment. She is accepting and caring and seems to trust everyone because she doesn’t remember that of which she ought to be afraid. Dory is a simple, loveable character that fills her world with fun, love and colour.
Alongside Dory is Marlin, the father of Nemo. He is a nervous single father who is overprotective of his young son and always worries about him and fusses over him. It is this over-fussing that leads to Nemo doing something stupid and becoming lost on his first day of school. Marlin embarrasses Nemo and Nemo determines to prove himself capable and unafraid. He swims out beyond the rock shelf, ‘the Drop’ and is caught by scuba divers. So begins the adventure of Marlin searching for Nemo, who ends up in an aquarium in a Sydney dentist. The movie is a wonderful story of a father desperately searching for his son and in the process overcoming his own inhibitions, fears and uncertainties. He depends on a range of unusual creatures of the sea and there is a sense of working together, with each making its unique contribution.
As I shared the story with the children and went on to speak about how God loves us and seeks us when we lose our way, I wondered if there weren’t images and thoughts in this about the nature of God. Is God like Marlin in more ways than we care to recognise? Is God sometimes uncertain of what to do with or for us? Is God fearful for us or desperate in loving us and wanting the very best for us and what/who we can be? Does God desperately seek and search us out, constantly coming to us to liberate, free, nurture, lead, guide…? I wonder…
The point of the sessions with the children was to think about being lost and how it is that we lose our way. What does it feel like to be lost? I remembered several times when I lost my way and the feeling of disorientation often leading to desperation and, when young, fear. I remember driving in a new area where roads circled around more than I realised. I took a wrong turn and became disorientated and kept driving in circles. I was running late and the more desperate I became the worse it got. Finally I had to stop take a deep breath, find a cross street and then look much more carefully at the street directory (it was before smart phones and Siri!). I finally, carefully found my way out and to my destination.
Sometimes losing my way is a quick process and the realisation is swift and sure – I am lost! At other times it becomes a growing awareness over time. I gradually realise that I am heading in a wrong direction and will be completely lost if I continue! The response at these points is interesting: Do I continue on in case a landmark presents itself or the situation resolves? Or, do I stop, turn back to the last point I knew was right and start from there? There are times I continue on for a bit more hoping all might be well but knowing deep down I am only making things worse. Sometimes I turn around the moment I realise I am lost and find my way back whilst I can still remember.
I think that this is a metaphor for life. There are points in life where I lose my way. I lose my sense of direction or of what is important. I get caught up in all the stimulating messages and advertising or ideas that flood my senses daily. It is easy to be distracted by things on the internet, news of the day, the latest fad… There are myriad distractions to lead me away from what is truly important to me and feeds and nourishes my spirit and being. It is easy to become distracted by busy-ness or demands or the urge to get along (ambition?) or to have more money to do more things that are perceived to be all-important or necessary. As I look around there are many who seem lost as well. Too many people seem to be ambling along in all directions and no direction. Others are driving forward in a particular direction that seems destined to end in disappointment or a sense of loss. It is so easy to lose our way and when we do to drift along unsure what to do or how to get back on track. Some people aren’t even sure where the track is or what it looks like. Others aren’t sure they want that track but don’t know whether there is an alternative that will give them joy, hope and life.
This week’s reading (Luke 19:1-10) is the story of Jesus and Zacchaeus. As a tax collector, Zac, worked for the conquering empire and collected taxes, often exorbitant, for Rome. On top of the taxes they demanded, Zac would add his own mark-up, effectively ripping off his own people. It is likely that Zac drove some people into indebtedness, a desperate state from which it was unlikely they would emerge. Zac was not well-loved – by anyone. He was the epitome of everything that was rotten and unjust and he was shunned. Zac was well-off, financially and that was probably his goal but in pursuing this direction in life, he had totally lost his way. In the words of Jesus: ‘What does it benefit a person to gain the whole world but forfeit their soul?’ Zac had lots of money and ‘stuff’ but was obviously not enjoying life. He was thoroughly lost and no-one would give him the time of day. No-one would trust him or help him, until…
One day Jesus was walking through the town and crowds came out to see him. Zac, short in stature, couldn’t get through the crowd so ended up climbing a tree to catch a glimpse. But it was more than glimpse. One suspects that it was a yearning to be accepted, loved, liberated and shown the right path. Zac was lost and wanted to get back on the right track but had no idea. From the road, Jesus looked up and saw Zac. What he saw in those eyes and this possibly desperate man, we don’t know but he stopped and called him down. The crowd were probably waiting for Jesus to tear into Zac and rip him up for ripping them off. If so, they were surprised and astounded because Jesus invited himself to dinner at Zac’s place. It was an encounter of grace and Zac turned back, paid restitution to all he had ripped off and got his life on a new course, one that was relational, loving and focussed on what was of true worth and importance.
Zac found life in God and grace in Jesus’ acceptance. He was lost but was found and liberated, forgiven and restored to relationships with others. He found his way! What about you and I? God, who is somewhat like Marlin, seeks us out and is always with us, for us and seeking the best for us – if we want it. Perhaps like Zac we might yearn for something that is missing and find our way with the love God offers.