My dog discovered a cottontail nest a couple nights ago. After a lot of yelling from the family, Maggie – reluctantly – spit out a terrified baby bunny on the porch. He was pretty cute, and the girls saw it before I was able to sneak off and let it go. So the next stop was to Google, to see just what was involved in the care of wild baby bunnies.
Turns out, cottontails are not particularly hardy animals. Loud noises, soft cooing, and even my girls’ gentle strokes on its soft fur were all apparently enough to give most baby bunnies a heart attack. One site said baby cottontails had at best about a 10% chance of survival if found by the average pet owner. In case I had any doubts, one friend posted a video of a family releasing a bunny into the wild, which was picked off by a hawk or owl before it could even reach the safety of a nearby shrub. Cottontails – so I learned – are about as defenseless as they are cute, and their only defense is that they breed so quickly that there are just too many of them to all get eaten. Their primary purpose seems to be to provide food for the rest of the food chain.
The next day, the sermon was on “submission,” which is never a popular topic among American evangelicals, and the combination got me thinking. We like to think we’re the heroes in God’s story. We’re never “scared Israelite soldier #2” in the story of David and Goliath, for example. We quote Jeremiah 29:11 (out of context) and Habakkuk 1:5 (out of context) and tell others that “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” My point is that we tend to make God’s story, God’s plan all about us. About me. This is not submitting to God’s will. This is self-help: I turn to God in order to achieve my goals.
God’s story is about God, and He’s invited us to play a part. This is grace, that He would include us at all. But let’s not take that too far. Submitting to God means that we may be called on to play a bit part in the role of “baby cottontail,” whose sole (and very necessary) purpose in the drama is to simply advance the story, to help another character along.
This is a hard thing to truly live out, I think. But the mistake I make is in the assumption is that the cottontail is an insignificant part, that to be significant, I have to be successful. Most Christians know the name of Jim Eliot, the famous missionary who was killed attempting to evangelize the Aucas of South America. But what I find significant about his story is that his mission was a spectacular failure by most (short-term) standards: he was killed before making any significant contact with the tribe. He didn’t win a single convert. His story is significant because of what God did afterward, not what Jim Eliot did. Jim Eliot was a cottontail, sent to advance the story – nothing more. He’s a hero because he submitted to God’s plan out of a desire that God’s story would be fully told.
That’s the irony: in God’s story, the cottontails are the significant ones, the heroes, and it’s only by submitting to such a “bit part” that we truly find significance.
“…unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”
– John 12:24