One evening a grandmother was babysitting her two granddaughters Anne and Betty. Presently, 8:00 PM rolled around. “Okay, time for bed,” she informed the two children who were playing in the den. “Why?” Anne asked. “It’s so early!” “Your father said your bedtime is 8:00,” the grandmother said. “You don’t have to listen to him,” the Betty replied. “Why not?” the grandmother asked. Betty answered, “Because you’re his mother!”
The beginning of Beauty and the Beast shows an old bent-over woman asking for shelter for the night. The prince is repulsed by her haggard appearance and tells her to leave his property. The old woman transforms herself into a beautiful woman who then tells him his curse: You will become a beast and until you learn to love you will remain a beast.
How free are we? That’s the question the prince in the story Beauty and the Beast faces, and answers wrongly. How constrained are we? This is the question Belle faces and must leave her hometown to find the right answer.
Both are afflicted, alone, needing an answer that will bring them the connection the prince didn’t think he needed and the connection Belle had to suffer in order to find. And of course like all good Disney movies love is the answer.
You see, the prince thought he had the freedom to throw out someone who clearly needed his help. What the curse taught him was that he didn’t have that freedom. He should have made a connection that would have cost him something.
Of course we have all the freedom in the world, in our mind. But in reality, in the real world, in the world where hearts and souls and lives and good and bad hang in the balance, we don’t.
The obvious message of Beauty and the Beast is that if you don’t want to become a beast, then you have to reach out and be drawn in by others, our loved ones, the needy. We must not reject others who belong to us.
Did you hear the story of the one man, the lone survivor, of 800 men killed by ISIS? They were put in small groups and shot. He was shot. Somehow he survived the shot. He pretended to be dead among all the other men lying there. When it was all quiet, he snuck away. For three weeks he was on the run until he finally made it home.
At one point he hadn’t eaten for three days. He had no other choice but to knock on the door of a stranger’s home. This home was in ISIS territory
still. This home belonged to a Sunni family of course. He was Shia. They helped this man. And so did the other people he met and had to depend on in order to survive. It was like an Underground Railroad journey that he took, all with the help of Sunni Muslims in territory full of ISIS terrorists.
Those families, Muslim families, mind you, all knew that they were obligated to help this man. They believed somewhere deep inside them that to turn away this one soul would be to condemn their own souls. They didn’t want the curse.
What they won because of their strength was their true freedom against fear and against death at the hands of terrorists. In effect, what they did was to raise the banner of humanity, civilization, and hope in a place and time when all that is trying to be extinguished. Amazing stuff.
Many of us face much smaller issues that have to do with will we choose a freedom that doesn’t fit us or a connection that corrects us. But these “smaller” issues are what make up our lives.
A man struggled most of his adult life with depression, and he shared a story of his struggle with his counselor. He complained about how his family always went on and on about missing him when he was away on business trips. His counselor said, “Maybe they actually do miss you.”
He was silent, because he realized that the only thing he wanted to say was, “No they don’t.” And so his counselor gave him homework. And his homework was this: every time your kids or wife tell you they love you, listen, then give them a hug and say thank you. And do your best to actually believe it.
For a healthy person, that’s the easiest assignment in the world. For a person battling a curse, it gets a lot harder. The man said he was surprised how hard it was. He was surprised how much he wanted to keep the people who loved him most at arms-length. And he was surprised how much good it did him when he didn’t.
How good are you at connecting with someone, with a loved one? How good are you at loving someone?
Paul’s story of his transformation from Saul to Paul certainly counts as someone going from a beast to a prince. Of course in his case it is all about being convinced by the appearance or vision of the risen Christ that God has done something new and earth-shaking in Jesus. There’s not much of any inner examination going on here. Paul does later speak of how he was the worst of all people because he persecuted the church of God.
Paul’s real transformation is from someone who went from thinking his spiritual life was all about filling requirements, following laws and statutes, to someone who knew he would forever follow and identify with someone who was crucified. Once you make a connection to someone who was crucified, once you learn to see God’s love revealed in Christ on a cross, then the whole world changes. More importantly, you change. I change.
Look beyond limits and laws. Open yourself up to change through deeper connection. In Christ’s life, teaching, death, and resurrection we see God trying to connect to us through every and all means, and extending his love in ways unimaginable before Jesus our Lord and Savior came.
But this can be quite difficult. We’re sort of set in our ways. Who we like. How much we trust others. The amount of emotional and spiritual courage and strength we possess.
What is interesting about Beauty and the Beast is that Beauty becomes a symbol of someone who has to grow also or she will suffocate. She dreams of another place than her own provincial little town. She is slated by the village boor to be married, live the life she would drown in, and never experience what the rest of the world has to offer. She’s read all about it in the few books her town’s library holds.
She cannot accept being stuck in a life others have set out for her. Of course this is a problem more directed at the feminine side of life, as we see it. We tend to view social roles in terms of what women can and cannot do, which of course is quite true. But let’s not be completely fooled by this. Boys and girls both are given roles. Women and men both must play their parts or be seen often as unusual and unhealthy.
A beast is not only a man nor is a beauty only a woman. In fact, most of us have both of these sides within us: One who wants to break free of boundaries and the other who must learn to love and connect to keep boundaries.
Perhaps you’re fighting both of these at the same time. Certainly when we’re younger we do. Too many people choose freedom when they should choose love; too many let others dictate to them what their life should be about, or let fears direct them when they should have broken free.
It’s so easy to get these backward, and it happens all the time to both men and women. But when we finally get these right, when we finally stay where we’re supposed to stay, love who and how we’re supposed to love,
dream big and be courageous when we’re supposed to head out in faith, then what a transformation we experience.
Get these right. Stick with what needs sticking to. Give up what needs to be let go of. Work daily on making yourself into a beauty or a prince. Lean on Christ. Seek the Lord’s help and light, wisdom and direction.
There’s a story that has floated around preacher circles for years. There was a man who unfortunately was going down the all too common path of destroying his family with his own unhealthy habits and life choices. His excessive drinking and similar behavior was beginning to affect his marriage, his job, his family, and everything he held dear in life.
And finally the day came when he was convicted that he needed to do something. He joined an AA group, he started going to church with his family, and he began the process of breaking the curses that had haunted him for so long. And he went through all the steps. He got vulnerable enough to admit he had a problem and ask for help. He began to actually listen to his wife and children when the told him they loved him.
And then he started, slowly but surely, giving up the things that had once meant so much to him, but that were destroying him. And in doing that, he ended up sacrificing some of the things that had meant a lot to him, including a few good friends. But once he got a glimpse of what life could be like without the curse, he knew there was no turning back.
Finally the day came when he was cornered by some of his former drinking buddies. And they were giving him a hard time for “getting religion” and “going soft” and all the other things he’d done. And at once point they said, “They say that Jesus fellow even turned water into wine.”
The young man shook his head and said, “I don’t know about turning water into wine, but I do know that Jesus has turned wine into milk for my children and beer into food for my family. And because of him I am not the person I used to be.”
Jesus did turn water into wine. And tax collectors into saints. And fishermen into prophets. Our God is in the business of transformation. Our God is in the business of breaking curses. And it is not at all beyond the realm of imagination that he could turn even a beast back into a person, and lead us to our true home.
Can anybody say Amen?