Getting Real

Can a story about a toy rabbit help children learn more about heaven? According to Vigen Guroian, author of Tending the Heart of Virtue, it certainly can. The story I'm talking about is The Velveteen Rabbit, Margery Williams's classic tale of a threadbare toy bunny who becomes a real rabbit. It's a profound allegory on love and immortality, and reading it to our children just might awaken in them a deep desire for the Kingdom of Heaven. Written a century ago, The Velveteen Rabbit is about a toy rabbit that longs to be real. It watches the wind-up toys in the nursery as they move and walk, and wonders if their sound and movement means they are real. But a toy horse explains the secret: "When a child loves you for a long, long time... then you become Real." And that is exactly what happens to the velveteen rabbit: A little boy comes to love the rabbit more than any other toy, so that it actually becomes real to the boy. But at the end of the story, it undergoes another, even more magical transformation. A fairy appears and says, "You were real to the Boy because he loved you. Now you shall be Real to everyone." And the toy rabbit becomes a real flesh-and-blood rabbit. The allegory, of course, is that real life is not merely physical life. Real life is something we receive when we accept God's love for us, when God puts His spirit in us. And that life never ends; when we die physically, we simply enter into God's life even more fully. We become even more "real." As Guroian writes, the boy's love for the rabbit is "analogous to the love of God that gives each one of us being, and, according to biblical faith, draws us through our own response to his love into immortal life." C. S. Lewis weaves similar themes into his Narnia tales; he shows that heaven is somehow more real than Earth. Near the end of his book, The Last Battle, Lewis has his characters leaving what he famously calls "the Shadowland" of the earthly England for the "real England," saying that the two are as different as a shadow is of a real object. Children love allegorical tales that help them think about the big questions of our ultimate destiny. Guroian writes that books like The Velveteen Rabbit "address the need that children have for satisfying answers to such questions as: 'What happens to us after we die?'" As Guroian puts it, we are all born with a moral imagination, which presses us to find answers to the meaning and significance of life. But, he warns, the moral imagination "needs to be cultivated, like the tea rose in a garden. Left unattended and unfed, the rose will languish and thistle will grow in its place." A wonderful way to tend your children's moral imagination, and to guide them toward answers to the questions their hearts long to know, is by reading them classic children's stories like The Velveteen Rabbit. And the next time someone tells you to "get real," tell them what being real really means.


Chuck Colson


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