One of the joys of going back to Season 1 of Once Upon a Time is that, having missed this season the first time around, I get to learn what actually makes everybody tick. How did people meet? What happened to drive those two apart? What makes him who he is? These are all questions I’m getting answered finally, albeit slowly and with great joy on the part of my wife (who’s seen all this before and knows the answers to all those questions).
One of my favourite ones to wonder about is Rumplestiltskin, who if you haven’t seen the show is in love with Belle yet when faced with choosing between her and having power he always, always, always chooses power. Even when he knows he’s hurting her, without fail that’s what he chooses. My question in watching the more recent seasons has always been why. Why does he do it?
Turns out the answer is simple. Again, without giving away too much, early on in the first season Rumple is placed in a position that emphasizes just how powerless he truly is and long story short, having been there once before he refuses to go back again. Even if it means losing the one he loves, he refuses to be hurt that way again.
We may curse him for a fool (and fansites have done so many times), but if we’re honest we’d have to admit that we’re more like Rumple than we’d care to admit. Just ask yourself how many times you’ve been hurt by someone in a relationship and then sworn to yourself you’ll never put yourself in a position to be hurt like that again.
And it doesn’t have to be a relationship that causes it. It can be work, a hobby, or any other part of life. For example, growing up, I was smart. I grasped concepts quickly and I loved to learn. When I excelled I enjoyed it, but I didn’t feel any pressure to keep it up. I just had fun with it. In Grade 4, late in the year, one incident in particular happened where another student who witnessed it kept telling me over and over again “Mike, you are so stupid.” In hindsight I’d made a foolish mistake (emptying out a fish tank by pouring it down the sink, where the gravel could have gone likewise but thankfully didn’t), but the words hurt a lot worse than the mistake ever did. From that point on, I didn’t just enjoy being smart. I excelled at everything academic. I graduated high school with a 95.4 % average. (My Canadian high school didn’t have the GPA system.) Never again would I give someone the opportunity to call me stupid.
All it takes for us to end up like Rumple is getting hurt and then vowing never to be in that position again. And just like Rumple, I hurt those closest to me. I spent so much time on my studies that I didn’t have time for of anyone else.
In Matthew 16:25, Jesus tells us, “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” We might think He’s referring here to ducking martyrdom or something similar, but He’s actually not. “Life” here in the original Greek refers to that which makes you who you are. The sense is that in trying to protect that which is most valuable to us we actually end up losing it. Giving that which is most valuable over to Christ, however, means He can actually protect it. In losing it, so to speak, we get to hold onto it.
Think of it this way. If Rumple had someone in his life he could trust to protect himself, he would be free to choose Belle over power. An act like that, whether in his life or in yours or mine, requires a supreme sort of vulnerability, and that’s the kind that you only find when you have someone around you trust enough to be that vulnerable with. Jesus gives us that freedom, if we’ll only trust Him enough to see it.
The ironic twist to all this is that if we don’t trust Him with it, losing our life in the sense of Matthew 16:25 can entail missing out not only on what makes us who we are but also on whatever it is we’re turning to in order to protect ourselves with. The story of my grades ends that way. I had the highest average in my class for 3 of my 4 years in high school, and I enjoyed being in that spotlight. It became part of who I was. The one year I wasn’t on top was Grade 12, the year that really counted. I missed out on it by 0.1%, and all the spotlight went to someone else. In an instant, that part of me was gone. I left high school having been so focused on grades that I’d left my heart behind, and I ended up with precious little to show for it.
What part of yourself are you trying to protect? Will you trust Jesus enough to lay that down in His arms? Like Rumple, you’ll only hurt yourself and those around you if you don’t.