Escaping the monkey trap!

December 6, 2006

You know those little monkeys you always see in movies like Indiana Jones or Pirates of the Caribbean, the ones that are always running around stealing stuff and getting into trouble? I’m told that hunters in Africa can catch them in an amazingly simple way: they make little traps that allow a monkey to grab food by reaching through a small hole. The monkey is able to squeeze his hand in and get the food, but the hole isn’t big enough for him to pull out his food-filled fist. Although he could just drop the food and run away at any time, he refuses to let go and in this way remains stuck in the trap, even when the hunters come to get him!
The rich young man that comes to Jesus in the gospels had a similar monkey experience. Jesus had asked him to sell all that he had, give it to the poor, and then, “Come, follow me!” But because he could not bring himself to let go of his wealth, he chose not to follow Jesus and walked away sad. In a similar way, Jesus is calling all of us, “Come, follow me!” And he also saying to us, “Let go of whatever is keeping you from following me more faithfully! If you do, you won’t walk away sad—you will have great joy!”

One of the examples from my own life where I have found this to be true is in the Lord’s call to sacrifice marriage and children for the priesthood. I always wanted to be a dad and to have lots of kids and do all the things that dads do—teaching them to play catch or to ride a bike, showing them how to pray and to love God—but God showed me that he had another plan for me, that he wanted me to be another kind of dad. I resisted for a long time, telling God, “You can ask anything of me, but don’t ask me to let go of that!” But since I stopped fighting and finally said yes, the Lord has given me great joy and more spiritual children than I can count—and I’m not even a priest yet!

Likewise, I have heard married men relate how they struggled greatly at the beginning of their marriages, trying to hold on to something that they were deeply attached to, such as sports or the weekly night out with the guys. They felt that they had already given up so much of themselves to their wives and families, and they didn’t want to sacrifice this one last thing for the sake of their marriage. They wanted to keep something that was theirs and theirs alone. But once they finally chose to make this sacrifice, they discovered that it brought even greater joy and freedom in their marriage. (And if it was a worthwhile activity, they found that they were still able to enjoy it from time to time, anyway!)

What might you be holding onto in your life that is keeping you from following the Lord more fully? Perhaps like our Indiana Jones monkey, you are holding on to certain unhealthy relationships or bad habits that are keeping you from true freedom. Or perhaps like the rich young man, you find yourself attached to a gift or pleasure that is perfectly good in itself but that is keeping you from doing your best in the responsibilities that God has given you at work, school, or home. Whatever it is, why not ask Jesus during this Advent season to help you to detach yourself more from these things, so that you can experience the joy and freedom of following him more closely?

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