Once upon a time, there was a red-haired princess trapped in a tower guarded by a fearsome dragon. And while she waited for rescue, she read from a book of stories that told her all princesses must be beautiful and all their rescuers brave and charming. The stories told her that after she was rescued she would live happily ever after.
So, she was quite surprised that when rescue came the rescuer wasn’t particularly brave, just really big, and would have been described as charming by absolutely no one. Yep, I’m talking about everybody’s favorite ogre, Shrek, and the princess/ogress in disguise, Fiona.
I’ve been thinking about Fiona ever since I read this quote from Emily Freeman:
“[Jesus] whispers a quiet invitation to keep company with him the way he came to earth to keep company with us. It won’t always feel like a rescue. It might feel like surrender. But on the other side of that space I find Jesus. I find his peace. I find his companionship.”
I know, the connection between the quote and Fiona isn’t obvious. But it popped into my head after reading the original Shrek story to my son this week and it has stuck with me.
Sometimes rescue feels nothing like rescue. Fiona expected a dashing rescuer, a beautiful wedding and a happily ever-after. Instead, she found herself traveling with an ogre and the world’s most annoying donkey on her way to marry a prince who was far too much of a coward, with far too large of an ego, to do any rescuing.
If that wasn’t disappointing enough, Fiona had her own little secret to deal with: Red-haired princess by day, red-haired ogress by night. For half of her life, she was exactly what the world told her she was supposed to be. The other half she was, by definition, a monster.
The tension of Shrek is in that struggle with definitions. What is lovely? What is rescue? What is good? What is happily ever after?
I keep coming back to those lines: “It won’t always feel like rescue. It might feel like surrender.” Sometimes God’s rescue feels like the most uncomfortable journey, with companions we never expected, headed for a destination we never anticipated.
When we keep holding out for how life should be, we miss out on what God created us to be. Fiona had to learn to dream different dreams, dreams of a simpler, smaller life. She had to surrender to who she really was — a large, green ogress — rather than cling to what others told her she had to be — a lovely, petite princess — in order to be happy. When she embraced those new definitions — ogress instead of princess, friend instead of queen, swamp instead of castle — her world blossomed.
Over time I am learning how different God’s dreams are from mine. When I cling too tightly to my own set of shoulds, I feel torn between what my dreams say I should be and where I should end up and who God is making me to be and where he is leading me. Like Fiona, I am learning that sometimes rescue involves surrendering myself to different dreams and definitions for my life.
Nearly 15 years ago, I exchanged singleness for marriage. While that may be an easy and wanted change for many, for me it was surrendering a known plan for an unknown one. As a child of divorced parents, my idea of marriage was tainted and tinged with fear. However, I chose to trust God’s leading into that change, and through my marriage he has brought tremendous blessing and healing into my life. God has redeemed my definition of marriage and tinged it with grace.
In marriage, I’ve had to surrender the world’s idealized view of romance to the day-to-day choices to love another imperfect person. I’ve had to learn to let go of the idea of picture-perfect days for the real ones in which we make mistakes and find God’s glory in the mundane and in one another. God has used this to refine my life, to show me my own selfishness and to learn the true richness of the word “love.”
Perhaps the most heart-wrenching dream I’ve had to surrender to Christ was that of having children. I hoped it would be easy and it was anything but. Letting go of the dream of quickly becoming pregnant and exchanging it for the reality of waiting, fertility treatments and then adoption was a journey I bitterly resented being taken on.
Nothing has so challenged my faith in God’s goodness and his plans for me. But he did, graciously, bring me to a point of surrender and of choosing to embrace his dreams for my life. Letting go of the child God was not giving me and accepting the different direction he seemed to be taking our family grew me deeper in relationship with Christ than anything else in my life thus far. It formed in me bedrock truths of faith that allowed me to experience the peace that truly is beyond understanding (Philippians 4:7). This peace enabled me to surrender my dreams of a biological child to God and allowed me to pursue adoption and all the waiting that process entails. When God changed directions on us once again, with the absolutely shocking gift of finding out we were pregnant, there was incredible joy in being able to receive that gift with a soft and surrendered heart, rather than a hard and bitter one.
Each of those choices to trust God’s definitions and direction for my life has helped bring me to places where I can echo the last part of that quote: “ . . . I find Jesus. I find his peace. I find his companionship.”
As I have embraced God’s definitions for my life, my story has deepened, grown and brought life anew. Like Fiona, I’ve learned that between “once upon a time” and “happily ever after,” there is a story far different than what I dreamed or planned. But that story is far better than any fairy tale, filled with moments of laughter and grace, and in it all a rescue far greater than anything I could have imagined.