Have you ever read the story of The Velveteen Rabbit? It’s the classic children’s story about a stuffed, toy bunny that dreams of becoming real. The story has its ups and downs as the bunny believes he is real at one point but then realizes he is not. In the end, however, the little rabbit is finally granted his wish.
After reading this tale recently, I came to realize that the ending wasn’t quite what I remembered it to be. I knew that the stuffed bunny willingly suffered alongside his owner while the little boy was sick in bed with scarlet fever. I also remembered that the bunny and some other toys were to be burned after the boy recovered from his illness so that they would not spread germs to anyone. And it was in the yard, while he waited this impending doom, that he met the magic nursery fairy who ultimately brought him to life.
What I didn’t recall was that the fairy made the rabbit’s wish come true because she took care of old, worn down, or broken toys that were loved.
I somehow failed to see the connection between the boy’s love and the rabbit’s realness when I first read this story. Instead, I implicitly understood something that I still believe to hold true—that the bunny was brought to life because of the way he suffered alongside the child. The truth is, the sacrifice this stuffed animal made for the boy ultimately brought him to the end of his toy life, which, in a roundabout way, opened the door for him to become real.
As a side note, this secular story reminds me of the following spiritual truths:
Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”John 15:13 (ESV)
Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”Matthew 10:39 (ESV)
I love how God can use even the simplest of things to point us back to Him.
I read this children’s tale to Liam nearly every night throughout the first few weeks of March. There was something about this story that felt so cathartic to me in light of my own suffering—something that I couldn’t quite put my finger on but had me coming back every night, seeking to understand. The story resonated with me deeply, and I felt like God was somehow using this simple children’s tale and my ability to relate to this imaginary bunny to bring healing to my heart, because I saw how God was using my own suffering to make me real too.
My own pain was causing me to be more authentic with God and others rather than simply putting on a front. It was making me wrestle with hard questions and seek out God for true answers, and I know suffering has done this and more for others too.
Suffering truly has a way of scrubbing off the superficial surfaces of our lives to reveal what is most raw and real about ourselves, and although we may not always like what is exposed beyond the surface, God’s best work is done there, within the very depths of our souls. It is there where He is able to fortify our character and create a greater sense of compassion within us. It is there where He teaches us humility and gives us a greater capability of relating to others. And it is there where new seedlings of purpose are planted that can bloom into beautiful redemptive stories over time, because our pain, when surrendered to God, is always redeemed.
I don’t like to suffer, but I am learning to love the results it produces in me and to trust the process, and I’m thankful that God is preparing me to comfort others who suffer just as He has comforted me in my own suffering. It is something I am finding to be of extreme value of late.
There will never be a shortage of suffering in the world, but there will never be a limit as to how God can use our pain when submitted to Him. It becomes the fertile soil where spiritual growth takes place. And although I may not see this in the actual moment of hardship and pain, I truly believe that suffering can become the gateway God uses to make real what our best dreams could never have imagined, even as He is in the process of making us more real through it all—more like His Son Jesus.
1 Williams, Margery (1922). The Velveteen Rabbit or How Toys Become Real. A Celebration of Women Writers. https://digital.library.upenn.edu/women/williams/rabbit/rabbit.html