Imagine eating breakfast with me, and here’s our next bite: “This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: By My great power I have made the earth and all its people and every animal. I can give these things of mine to anyone I choose” (Jeremiah 27:4,5). Then off we go to the Cleveland Zoo to discover and enjoy God and His creation.
As I noticed bellyaching as we climbed up the hill to find the zoo’s cats, the cheetahs were lying down and resting. They look at us as if to say, “Wanna race? I don’t think so. You wouldn’t have a chance of winning.”
But even God’s fastest animals don’t feel the need to prove anything. Then why do we race around all day long trying to prove something or try to be more than God made us to be? Why not just enjoy being the way God made us and relax some when it’s hot or when it’s cold? Racing around trying to do too much doesn’t make us better. It steals our joy.
As I watched with childlike wonder as little children were feeding the giraffes huge pieces of romaine lettuce, I wondered who ever came up with the idea of fencing in these giant-sized, beautiful animals.
They seemed so happy to be hand-fed by little kids, and the zoo enjoyed making money that people paid to come and see and feed them. I also wondered, “How often do we stick out our necks for strangers and put a smile on their faces?” Maybe we’re the ones who fence ourselves in instead of fulling extending ourselves and taking risks to reach out to hard-to-reach people.
When we arrived in elephant world, it seemed like these massive, thick-skinned animals took a pace that helped everyone to slow down.
But as I reflect on my own life, it seems that the only way to become more tough-skinned is by going through adversity. Reacting emotionally and taking everything personally hurts too much. As we grow older, we learn to slow down, toughen up, while also remaining sensitive to God and people and feelings at the same time. Sharing our honest feelings is just what God wants us to do when He nudges us to share them when people are ready to hear them. Many of our feelings need a quiet resting place in our body, the sanctuary where God’s Spirit lives.
As I enjoyed the day with a friend who has been battling cancer, I treasured our moments together. Life and people are gifts from God to enjoy. I’ve poured out my heart and prayers for so many of my dear friends who are battling cancer. I grieve with those who have recently lost loved ones. We’re never guaranteed our next breath or another moment together. But here’s what I found most disturbing as I watched people. Parents were yelling at their kids for being loud and for moving around too much. Boys and girls were getting yelled at for climbing on the rocks. Kids were being scolded and shamed for being kids. Why don’t we just enjoy people the way God made them?
Zoos are great for people like me who can’t sit still. I ran into an old friend, one of my favorite Christian psychologists, who twenty-five years ago used to tease me about being too old to diagnose ADHD because they didn’t diagnose ADHD when I was a boy. We had some good laughs together and decided to rekindle our friendship and get together for coffee. But when we realized that we only work and live thirty minutes from each other and never see one another, we thought that it’s a tragedy that we don’t make the effort to find the people that we know and love and do it more often.
I was so excited to search the zoo to find my favorite animal. I’m an otter. I get paid to play with kids for a living. I told my wife and friends that when we find the otters, I’m going to stop and just enjoy watching them play in the water for about an hour. At the end of a long day, we finally got to the aquarium and discovered that the otters had recently had baby otters; therefore, the exhibit was closed. What a disappointment. But I realized that many times we invest so much time and energy and money trying to find, get, or buy what we don’t have instead of enjoying who and what God has given us. I’m an otter, so why not just enjoy being me—the playful way that God made me to be. I don’t need to find the otters–I am one.
As I’ve been journeying through the book of Jeremiah, the prophet repeatedly gave God’s people the same message: Listen to Me and live. You’re not listening to Me, and you never do. Why don’t we listen to God and live the way that He designed us to live? Why do we seek after the world’s gods as if they give us life? Why aren’t we content loving and serving our God who has blessed us with a beautiful creation, people who uniquely reflect Him, and animals that display His majesty?