“There was once a woman walking on the path beside the jungle. Suddenly, a tiger jumped out, snarling, and the woman ran, terrified for her life. The tiger gave chase, and just as it was about to catch her, she came to a cliff.
“Without thinking, she jumped off the cliff and grabbed onto a vine, just beyond the reach of the tiger. Hoping to escape, she looked down, and there, to her horror, she saw yet another tiger, snarling in the ravine beneath her. There was no escape.
“Her predicament worsened when two mice—one white and one black—climbed onto the vine above her head and began to chew through it. It was only a matter of time before they severed her lifeline and sent her plummeting to the tiger below.
“Then the woman took her eyes off the mice and the tigers, closed her eyes, and slowly settled. As she did this, she came to herself. And when she opened her eyes she saw beautiful, ripe strawberries on the cliff right in front of her.
“So she plucked those strawberries and ate them, and how sweet they were!” (taken from The Forgotten Way, pg. 126-127)
Slowly but surely, I’ve been leafing my way through Ted Dekker’s The Forgotten Way—a book that attempts and succeeds at helping its reader find and hopefully return to the true meaning and way of Christianity as Jesus originally intended it—and the path through its pages has most definitely had quite an influence on my life. The thing is, while I came across this beautiful gem of a story (originally a Buddhist teaching) over a month ago within the book’s very pages, it wasn’t until I found the same story included in A.D. 30 – another book by the same author – that it really made an impact on me.
You see, I find this story amazingly profound. It may seem a bit random and silly and confusing at first glance, but upon dissecting the meaning behind all of it, it provides us with an insightful truth that will leave us searching for strawberries wherever we go, no matter what our walk of life. So buckle in.
In actuality, you are the woman of this story, and the tigers represent all the things that will or can hurt you or threaten you in this life. The tiger above represents all the grievances of your past—death, heartbreak, failure—while the one below represents all your fears going forward in life. The white mouse represents day while the black one represents night, and their chewing on the vine represents the passage of time. You don’t know which will take you, day or night, but no matter what, your outer body will one day meet its death, and there is nothing you can do stop that, no matter how hard you try. “All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return” (Ecclesiastes 3:20).
You see? These things represent the kingdom of this world, the one we find ourselves in each and every day. And as Jesus told us, “In this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33). Try as we might, there is no way to prevent this.
But there’s another part to Jesus’ message in that last-quoted verse: “But take heart!” He says to us. “I have overcome the world” (John 16:33 cont.).
These, my friends, are the strawberries. The strawberries represent the kingdom of heaven, the kingdom that is here with us even now (as we read in Luke 17:21) and reflects our true selves, the selves that can look beyond the worries of this world because we have put our faith in the only One who has overcome it. So instead of focusing on the fears of the future and the troubles of the past—both of which are inevitable, thus making it pointless to worry about—we should focus on the strawberries that the Lord has put before us, enjoying the life we have been given and tasting its many fruits. Taste and know that the Lord is good.
The truth is this: there is a whole different reality living in front of us, a reality that we, an earth-minded people, are typically blind to and eager to stay clear of. Yet if we can open our minds to this reality, we can enjoy our lives on earth that much more and we can find strength within the sorrow.
This I can promise you: the troubles of your life will always surround you—relationships, arguments, finances, day-to-day struggles, lust, anxiousness, jealousy, anger, sickness, death—but it is up to you on whether or not you will succumb to these troubles and live your life wallowing in fear of the next struggle that may come. As Mr. Dekker puts it in The Forgotten Way, “It is your choice whether to keep your eyes on them and so live in fear, or to put your eyes on the beauty of your Father’s sovereign presence and find peace.” You can make the futile attempt to escape the tigers or stop the mice, but there is nothing in your power that will allow you to do so, so it will all be for naught. Instead, I encourage you to look at the strawberries before you and appreciate all the things that God has given you in the life. Appreciate those things and eat them up, see how delicious they are. Thank God that despite the inevitable pain that you will face, He has not left you with a barren rock-face, but instead a cliff filled with the most delicious strawberries you have ever tasted. It is only by realizing the fragility of life that you will truly begin to appreciate the people, the things, the places—the strawberries—before your very eyes.
It is only by living in this kingdom of heaven—this kingdom free of all fear, for we know that “perfect love drives out fear” (1 John 4:18) and that there is no reason to fear a world when the One who perfectly loves you has overcome it—that you will truly be able to enjoy the things of this world: your house, your body, your spouse, your friends, your family, all the things that God has gifted you. For all things under the sun are meaningless (Ecclesiastes 1), yet if you remember your Creator during your time here on earth, everything will suddenly find meaning once again (Ecclesiastes 12). There is no need to fear, for God has plans to prosper, and it is He who dictates every single thing that happens both on earth and beyond it (Jeremiah 29:11, Matthew 6:34). So why be afraid of the things you have no control over? See what the Lord has given you and take comfort and happiness in those things, because He has given them to you for a reason. Don’t take the strawberries for granted, but enjoy them while they are there and forget about the tigers and the mice, for they have no power over you, whose hope is in the Lord. As if to prove this point even further, the phrase “Do not be afraid” is consistently repeated throughout the entirety of the Bible to people in various different situations and walks of life, a constant reminder that there is no need to fear, for God is in control and He is watching over us.
NOW LET’S BE HONEST…this is a whole lot easier said than done. It’s easy to smile and say—or, in my case, sit and type—“Don’t be afraid, because God is in control,” but implementing that knowledge into your life is a much harder thing to do for even a short amount of time, nearly impossible to consistently remember for long spans of time as we go about our day-to-day lives. We are finite, earth-minded people who have no true grasp on the infinite realm that the Bible so often speaks of, so how are we supposed to go through our earthly lives—where the oppressed find no comfort, the lonely are left to weep to themselves, and the dead are happier than the living (Ecclesiastes 4)—by just shrugging off the pain that comes at us and treating it as if it were nothing? How do we, who understand nothing beyond this world, look past the pain that surrounds us in this world?
The key is this: repetition. Mr. Dekker’s book is titled “The Forgotten Way” for a reason, folks, and that is because the way of Jesus is so easily forgotten as we struggle to keep our minds on the eternal blessings and promises of the Lord. So you are going to have to find a way to constantly remind yourself of this truth, no matter what that way may be. I’m not saying it will be easy; I’m saying it will be worth it. If telling yourself that “everything would be alright” was an easy thing to do, I would have no reason to write this article, so instead I encourage you to encourage yourself. I encourage you to encourage others. I encourage you to go out into the world and spread the Good News that there is a God and that He is in control, and that with Him in your life there is no reason to fear or weep or be anxious or be stressed. During the trial you face or the tribulation you are going through, the pain will overtake you and the devil will whisper doubts into your mind, and I’m not going to lie and tell you that it will be easy to remember God in those times. But I will say that God has come to live in us through the Spirit, and thanks to that Spirit we can come to the Father in prayer, humbling ourselves, recognizing our weakness, and acknowledging that we need Him to lift the burden that we cannot bear on our own. If we do this and we can hold one another accountable to remind everyone of this truth, the world will undergo a shockwave of encouragement as we strive to realign ourselves with the way of Jesus that is so easily forgotten.
If you can accept this as the truth, then this is but a step that will lead you along the path to discovering who you truly are in Jesus Christ. If it freaks you out a bit and confuses you, don’t worry, because God will continue to show you His power and will provide you with other ways to see the comfort that is found in Him. Just remember: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7, Luke 11:9). So no matter what you are facing, whether that be a break-up or a sick relative or an identity crisis or a bad grade or financial instability, know that God is in control, and instead of focusing on the tigers, look for the strawberries. There is nothing to fear. Find those things that God has provided you—both big and small—and cherish them; thank Him for giving them to you, and allow them to comfort you in your time of need. This life is far too short to live in fear, so let go of all fear and anxiousness and stress and open your eyes to see the kingdom of heaven, which is here with us right now, even as I write this. Yes, there is an eternal realm waiting for us once we die, but God has provided us with a little dose of heaven here on earth, so go out there and appreciate what He has given you. Go and find those strawberries, my friends. Find them and taste of them.
How sweet they are.