Recently, I’ve been thoroughly enjoying a particular series of children’s books. The premise is brilliant: each book features a woodland critter debilitated by a common struggle (anxiety, depression, fear, etc.). The story artfully sets up the circumstances leading to the creature’s distress, identifies where the creature’s sin plays into the struggle, then addresses the sin with Scripture delivered by a compassionate guide. In the end, the central rabbit, hedgehog, or turtle finds hope and healing through the gospel and the power of God’s Word.
The tactic these stories take is brilliant for several reasons. First, they create situations everyone can relate to. We can identify with the raccoon gripped by covetousness and the squirrel absorbed in anger because we have the same hearts (Luke 6:45; 1 Cor. 10:13). Second, the stories externalize these sin patterns to make them easier to identify. Who doesn’t struggle to understand their own heart, especially in the heat of the moment? However, we’re pretty good at spotting when someone else is sinning (Matt. 7:3). Third, the stories address the right problem with the right solution. The bunny’s biggest problem is not that he lost the race and now feels ashamed. His biggest problem is that his pride leaves him self-consumed, unable to rejoice with the winner of the race. However, the gospel brings the help and freedom this bunny needs to think of others better than himself (Rom. 12:15; Phil. 2:3).
Winnie the Pooh
When watching Winnie the Pooh with my children, I am regularly struck by how artfully each resident of the Hundred Acre Wood also illustrates common heart issues. So, in the same spirit of the Good News for Little Hearts series, let’s consider how the characters of Winnie the Pooh might be useful in discipling your children.
To be clear, in focusing on each character’s negative qualities I do not mean to spoil the fun or create little critics. Winnie the Pooh is delightful. However, I can’t help but notice that many of the characters are essentially defined by their heart issues. In some ways, these imperfections are the very things that make them endearing. But in another sense, these same imperfections would not be nearly as cute if displayed in a 15-, 25-, 35-, or 85-year-old. They are just begging to be met with the hope of the gospel. And they provide a window through which your child might see his or her own heart.
Let’s look at some of these characters. With each, I’ll identify their struggle, call it by a biblical name, and address it with Scripture in the hope that when your child is struggling, you can ask, “Are you feeling like Tigger? What does Tigger need to hear from God’s Word right now?”
Pooh loves honey! In fact, his love for honey seems to motivate his every action. He wakes thinking of honey. He cannot be bothered to think that hard about anything else besides honey. He willingly puts himself in harm’s way to obtain honey. And yet it never seems that he has honey. Though Pooh can be thoughtful, kind, and a very good friend, he can also abandon each of those qualities in his single-minded quest for honey. And though the honey is pleasant for a moment, it never completely satisfies.
Proverbs refers to this kind of person as a sluggard: “The desire of the sluggard kills him, for his hands refuse to labor. All day long he craves and craves, but the righteous gives and does not hold back” (Prov. 21:25-26). Other overlapping Bible concepts include gluttony and foolishness. Doesn’t this sound like Pooh? His idolatry of pleasure actually kills him. However, the solution is in the second half of the Proverb. Instead of taking, a righteous person gives. The gospel turns selfish sluggards into self-controlled producers (Gal. 5:22-23). Instead of endless craving, a person transformed by the gospel is satisfied in Christ (Eccles. 6:7; Luke 6:21; Phil. 4:11-13). Does your child love pleasure more than holiness? Help them consider what advice they would give Pooh.
Eeyore is certainly never accused of looking on the bright side. Though endearing, he always seems to be in the dumps. To be fair, trouble seems to find Eeyore. He only desires a quiet life: a humble abode, a few friends, and a mouth filled with thistles. Yet, Eeyore has gotten used to the frequency with which circumstances conspire against him. In fact, he assumes the worst will happen and embodies this assumption in his attitude.
Though Eeyore’s circumstances should inspire our pity, his reaction actually exposes a heart in need of the gospel. We may call his sin hopelessness (2 Cor. 4:16; 5:8). Eeyore reacts to his circumstances by assuming the worst of others, pitying himself, and thus losing his will to try very hard. He has let his sadness turn into hopelessness. By fixating on his circumstances, he makes himself unavailable to serve others or to find joy in the Lord.
All of this stems from the same heart we possess, a heart that is quick to turn inward when we experience trouble. Your child will experience many trials. Some things are legitimately sad. We can and should mourn evil in this world (2 Cor. 1:8). Yet, we can trust the Lord with our circumstances. We can, with time, turn our tears into lament, receive his comfort, rise, and serve him—even if we still feel sad (2 Cor. 1:3-4). Does your child struggle to get out of the pit when things don’t go their way? Help them consider what advice they would give Eeyore.
Piglet and Rabbit
What do Piglet and Rabbit have in common? Both are characterized by fear. For Piglet, this is easy to spot. His little frame shakes and his meek voice trembles at the sight of a scary-looking tree, an out-of-place balloon, or even his own shadow. Children can understand Piglet’s fear—the world is a scary place!
Rabbit’s fear is perhaps harder to spot. We see his fruit: perfectionism, condescension toward others, and a quickness to fly off the handle if his orderly life is interrupted. Rabbit would fit right in with the Pharisees. But what lies behind his actions? I believe it is fear (Matt. 6:25-34; Luke 12:22-34). Rabbit does not believe he has control, so he works himself to the bone to find it. When he feels out of control, he goes ballistic. Rabbit believes he is responsible for his own security. The thought of insecurity terrifies him. Again, depending on your child’s temperament, you may see these same tendencies.
Both Piglet and Rabbit would flourish standing on the firm foundation of the gospel. Piglet, Rabbit, and your child need to know that the God of the universe is rock solid (Pss. 18, 40, 62), his promises are unshakeable (1 Pet. 3:5-6), and his grip on his people is tight (John 10:28). Those who know Jesus can truly say: “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you” (Ps.56:3). Does your child struggle with fear? Help them consider what advice they would give Piglet or Rabbit.
Just like the residents of the Hundred Acre Wood, we all have hearts in need of help. Fortunately, we have a God who can save us through the gospel and also keep changing us through the gospel. In Jesus, we can enjoy our honey, hope through disappointment, and trust God when life is scary—not perfectly, but more and more each day.