Beyond Curious George

Jun 08, 2011 |Steve Watters

It’s easy to believe that life has more to do with good or bad luck than having a connection to what you do or don't do.  

I read recently that another Curious George movie is in the works. In hopes of making more money than the 2006 movie with Will Ferrell, 24 Frames (makers of the movie Despicable Me) will try to bring their own approach to the 70-year-old story of a mischievous monkey and the man with the yellow hat.

Regardless of any artistic innovation they may bring to the story, I anticipate that 24 Frames will retain the same theme that Curious George has always had — “Do whatever you want, because the man with the yellow hat will bail you out.”

That may sound harsh, but seriously, have you read the books or watched the Will Ferrell movie recently? It’s all playful storytelling, and George is quite cute in his exploits of curiosity, but the theme of getting away with mischief underlies every plot. Consider the story of Curious George and the Puppies — one I read to our kids a couple of times before realizing what kind of message it was sending.

In this story, George and the man with the yellow hat (TMWTYH) find a stray kitten that they take to the animal shelter. While there, TMWTYH has to leave George for a minute. Before he leaves, he gives him his standard plea: “Don’t be too curious.” But of course, George is. In a matter of minutes, he opens a few cages, and puppies end up running all over the place, barking up a storm. Fortunately, TMWTYH shows up (and though mildly upset) helps get all the puppies corralled. In the midst of the chaos, George finds a puppy that’s been lost. “George you certainly caused a ruckus!” said the director of the animal shelter, “but if you hadn’t let the puppies out, we’d still be looking for this one.”

Oh, my! George’s serendipitous act of goodness earns him not only forgiveness, but also praise for how his episode of curiosity-induced chaos ultimately saved the day.

Good Intentions Instead of Intentionality

OK, so why am I piling up on a cartoon monkey? It’s because the Curious George storyline has grown so pervasive in our popular culture. And it’s leading too many young adults to squander their 20s, all the while hoping that a Curious George plot twist will emerge from nowhere and reward them for their good intentions by giving them happiness in their 30s.

Like George, they’ve been warned by their elders not to be too curious or mischievous, but they’re used to those same people coming along and bailing them out whenever they’ve made a mess of things — primarily because they had good intentions. Even worse, many who have some kind of notion of a God in heaven see Him more than anything as the ultimate man with the yellow hat — someone who gives a certain amount of direction, but then goes away while they have their fun until it’s time to return for the clean up.

The Curious George types think little about consequences. It’s easy for them to believe that life has more to do with good or bad luck than having a connection to what they do or don't do.

I thought of this as I was reading Christian Smith’s book Souls in Transition. For several years now, Smith and his research team have been following a group of young adults through their teens and 20s, asking them about all kinds of things like faith, education, sex and more. One of the guys in the study, John, tells them about his experience with prostitutes. “When it’s only 30 bucks,” he says, “that’s a lot less money than it would have cost to take a girl out to dinner and movie these days.” Just a few paragraphs down, we read, “John definitely wants to get married someday, a little before he turns 30 years old.” “Why?” they ask him. And John replies, “American dream, life, kids, house. All that s—t. I like that.”

Really? The destination John wants is thousands of miles away from the road he is traveling. Or to put it another way, he’s dreaming about enjoying a crop of fresh strawberries while planting some serious weed seed.

That’s kind of the way the Apostle Paul told it to the Galatians.

Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up (Galatians 6:7–9).

This passage makes it very clear that how you live now will be the basis for the life ahead of you (especially when it comes to important stuff like work, faith, marriage and family). Just having good intentions is not the same as living with intentionality.

Recognize the Law of the Harvest

In a high-tech world where we’re disconnected from the agrarian life our forefathers knew, we don’t often think about the “law of the harvest,” but when I was young, my dad made sure I knew it well.

When I was 6, he moved our family into the country and proceeded to draft us into helping him cover our property with gardens, fruit trees, grape vines, strawberry bushes, watermelon patches and more. A simple lesson I learned then was that seeds go down and plants come up. In all our planting, I never saw watermelon seeds produce okra or grape vines produce string beans.

I also learned that the reaping season is different from the sowing season. Often it was months between sowing and reaping. For some things we planted, like pecan trees, it was years before we saw produce. That gap between sowing and reaping often makes people think they can get away with things in the short-term. The passage in Galatians reminds us, however, that the harvest will indeed come.

Avoid Sowing to the Flesh

Each season builds on the last. In your 20s, you reap what you sowed in your teens; in your 30s, you reap what you sow in your 20s. Fruitfulness now leads to fruitfulness later. Of course, the opposite of that is also true. As Paul says, “The one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption.”

This is especially true when it comes to dating, relationships and marriage. While many come short of the guy John I mentioned earlier (who still hopes to harvest a family by planting prostitution seeds), there’s still lots of “sowing to the flesh” happening.

“[W]hen it comes to romantic relationships and sex,” writes Christian Smith, “many — if not most — emerging adults see little connection between the lives they live now before settling down and the lives they will live later after having settled down.” He sees that many emerging adults believe they can “party, hook up with strangers and generally play at being wild” and then later, “when they settle down they’ll be sober, faithful and responsible adults … and the memories and behavioral consequences will never haunt them down the road.”

Many young adults who are “sowing to the flesh” will still end up married some day, but they will tragically harvest marriages full of weeds, vulnerable to predators and bearing little in the way of fruit. No man with a yellow hat can fix the messes some of us have made. God and His great mercy is our only hope. Although He may allow the crops you’ve already sown to be reaped as His means of discipline (Hebrews 12:4–11), you can ask Him for forgiveness (Acts 2:37–39) and wisdom to sow for the next harvest (Hosea 10:12).

Cultivate the Crop of the Spirit

As we worked our garden growing up, we quickly realized that we would have a crop of weeds if we weren’t intentional in our cultivation. And it wasn’t enough to just keep the weeds pulled; we knew we had to plant and cultivate good stuff — we had to be fruitful.

Fruitfulness is one of the most consistent themes throughout Scripture. It shows up in the first words from God to mankind (“be fruitful”) and then appears over and over again in the books of the law, the history books, the wisdom literature, the prophets, the Gospels, the epistles and then Revelation.

Fruitfulness is the opposite of our consumer-driven culture. At its heart, it's productive, giving and other-centered. And it’s often hard work. It requires cultivating the soil, planting, fertilizing, weeding, being on guard for insects and predators, pruning and then harvesting.

While all that work is essential and requires intentionality, it would be in vain without God. He’s the one who faithfully provides the sun, the water and the seed. He is generous and faithful to bring a harvest when we sow — not because He owes us for our good deeds, but because He puts natural laws into place that He then faithfully carries out. That’s why you can trust God as you sow now in Christian character development, in sexual purity, in Biblical dating, in financial stewardship and more. God isn’t going to bless you because He owes you for those good works, but He’ll bless your sowing with reaping because He’s true to His nature.

Don’t Give Up

But you can't give up. I suspect that someone reading this is weary (like the Galatians Paul was writing to) and needs to be encouraged not to give up. Being fruitful requires a countercultural patience and lots of delayed gratification. There is no immediate payoff.

It’s embarrassing how impatient my brothers and I were growing up. We anxiously watched the seeds we planted. We picked and ate way too many grapes, plums and peaches before they were ripe — and suffered sick bellies for our rush. We needed to hear these words from James:

Be patient, therefore, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. Behold, the farmer waits for the precious produce of the soil, being patient about it, until it gets the early and late rains. You too be patient; strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand (James 5:7–8).

Wait on the Lord and trust Him for the harvest when you’re being faithful — even if you feel like the last virgin you know, the only person who doesn't justify porn, or the last young woman who is careful to be modest in dress and action.

And remember that trials and hardships are not a sign that you're doing the wrong thing. Challenges will come in a fallen world — especially as our enemy seeks to keep us from being fruitful (see Mark 4:14–20). You have to persevere. It’s to God’s glory that you bear much fruit, even in the face of persecution (see John 15, especially verse 8 and 16).

There is no man with a yellow hat waiting to come in and give your story a happy ending, but there is a faithful God who promises that you will reap in due season if you do not give up.

You will certainly reap what you sow — so what will you sow?

Copyright 2011 Steve Watters. All rights reserved.

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