You know the book If You Give A Mouse a Cookie? Did you know it’s possible to live out the overall plot points of that book in real life? Around the time I was thirteen, my mom got it in her head that she wanted an alpaca. To her, that would be just about the best thing ever. She had all sorts of grand plans for her alpaca and after no small amount of cajoling, my Dad finally consented to get her one. It seemed like a simple enough request to fulfill.
So you can imagine our surprise when we found out that since alpacas are social animals you can’t have just one on their own. Suddenly my Dad found himself buying two alpacas. A little more outlandish, but still doable. Then my Dad found out that alpacas aren’t exactly great at defending themselves from predators so you have to have a herd animal to guard them. Before my Dad knew it, he had purchased one alpaca, an alpaca friend, and a llama to guard them both. If you give a mouse a cookie…
There was a catch though. The llama arrived before the alpacas and she was not happy to no animals to guard yet. However, our neighbors down the way owned horses who were a little vocal. Our newly acquired llama heard the horses, decided that they would do, and completed a Cirque du Soleil level maneuver to bust out of her enclosure and take off into the woods. We watched the whole thing happen and were absolutely horrified. We had only owned this llama for an hour and already she was lost in the woods. No one was more upset than my mom, and out of sheer desperation to right the situation, the rest of us took off into the woods.
You ever have one of those moments when you can hardly believe what you’re doing? One moment I was minding my own business, and the next I’m a thirteen-year-old girl running through a forest, yelling for a llama to please come home. The longer I looked the more upset I got. Come back! I kept yelling, Come home! There was no llama to be found, but there was also no way on earth I was going to stop looking until that llama was returned safely.
Now, with years and distance from the original incident, it’s always struck me how much that says about God’s heart for us. Here I was, almost in tears, running through the woods and looking for a llama that didn’t want to be found and didn’t know how dangerous it was for her to have run in the first place.
I wasn’t mad at the llama. I was scared for her. She’d made a stupid choice and I was scared she was going to get even more lost and end up hurt. I didn’t want to catch her so I could smack her over the head and tell her what a dumb llama she was, I just wanted her safely back home and I didn’t care that I was running through the woods, getting scraped up and cut myself.
We all too often get convinced that God is sitting up in heaven with his arms folded and his brow furrowed, furious with us over every little wrong thing we do, but the reality is much more similar to my llama pursuit. Yes, the wrath of God is a very real thing and not to be taken lightly, but he is so much greater than just wrath. If we’re going to call him God the Father, we’re going to have to recognize the magnitude of how much love a parent has for their child.
I don’t like to admit it, but most of the time I’m no better than a dumb llama who jumped the fence because she thought she knew what was best for her. But if I’m the dumb llama, God’s the caregiver rushing through the woods before something truly terrible happens to me. He doesn’t chase us down out of anger, or revenge. He’s not muttering under his breath about what a stupid llama I am even though he has every right to. He’s yelling the same things I yelled to my own dumb llama. Come back to me! Come home!
The harsh language on consequences in scripture exists not to condemn us, but to lovingly, urgently warn us of the dangers we’re heading towards before it’s too late. If we have fear of God not wanting us after the things we’ve said and done, that fear does not come from him. That’s not his way. Yes, consequences exist for our actions, much the same way a child who doesn’t listen to their parent’s warnings still burns their hand on a hot stove. But that parent doesn’t laugh and point at their crying child and say they got what they deserved. They wipe the tears, tend the burn, and hold their child until they’re all right again. If you watch correction in your life closely, you’ll always find that God follows the same procedure.
Don’t keep running just because you’re scared of the consequences of having run in the first place. That way lies danger. And trust me, the voice that shouting your name through the woods is not shouting out of anger, but desperate, heartwrenching love. It wants you back. God’s not calling to you when you have your act together. He’s calling to you out of love now. As Romans 5:8 puts it “But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.” You are sought after now.
Come back. Come home.
And by the way, after another hour that included a cranky old neighbor, two very confused horses, and a UPS driver who probably never had a stranger day at work, the llama was eventually recovered. Just like us.
Let’s find some joy,