In 1990, while a freshman in college, I spent a day of my Spring Break week at Disney World in Orlando, Florida. I remember it being hot, crowded and not all that much fun. Clearly, an 18-year old male is probably not the ideal visitor to Disney World's Magic Kingdom.
This year my wife and I decided to save up for a big vacation over Spring Break. My preference was a ski vacation to Colorado, but my wife thought that due to the ages of our kids that we should go to Disney World before they get any older. The kids also liked the idea of Disney World and the warmth of Florida over skiing in the cold Rocky Mountains.
I have written a ridiculously long report of our vacation which you can read here. The condensed version is that we had a great time and would do it again once our bank account is back up to an acceptable level. Disney World does do a great job of insulating its patrons from "real life," which I found to be exactly what I was looking for in a vacation.
But is this nothing more than a classic siren song? Has the Disney marketing machine touched upon a human weakness that the majority of us are powerless to deny? Is the magic of the mouse the temporary suspension of reality that incites our escapist fantasies? Or are there powerful forces at work which indelibly scratch those itches that lie deep in our spiritual core?
While enjoying the Disney attractions, I found myself overcome with unexpected emotion on a few occasions. I realized that I was grieving for the lost innocence of childhood. As I re-lived my first memories of Bambi, Peter Pan, Snow White, Mary Poppins and the like, I was reminded of my egocentric childish view of life. I kept thinking to myself "Ah...life was so much simpler then...so innocent." And herein lies the more subtle dark side of Disney.
The not-so-subtle dark side is the blatant humanistic message proclaimed by Jiminy Cricket that you can become whatever you want...it's all up to you. It's a nice thought and sounds good to kids who want to grow up to be football players or astronauts, who think that all it really takes is "to wish upon a star," but most of us grow up (and out) of such a naive view of the world we live in and ultimately don't take this message too seriously. As for the more subtle dark side that I alluded to earlier -- well, that's an entirely different matter.
I loved the idea of returning to childhood...to innocence. Then it dawned on me -- there is nothing innocent about being a child. Just because I was ignorant of my sin and my desperate need for a savior does not mean that I was innocent. Let me repeat this to myself: I was not innocent. So what then is this very real longing that gets stirred here at Disney World? Do I have a desire to return to blissful ignorance? Do I want to pretend that I really don't need Jesus to cover my sins? Is there something about my broken condition that would prefer to not have to trust God in everything?
My son Silas frequently tells me how he can't wait to be an adult so that "he can do whatever he wants." I grin and bite my tongue knowing full well that being an adult is not going to go quite like he hopes. The grass really is greener on the other side. Kids want to grow up and grown-ups want to go back to being kids.
As a Christian, I feel myself being pulled in a similar fashion in that I want and need Jesus to save me, but I also want to somehow get to a place where I no longer need him so much. The Bible illustrates this concept well in the story of the Exodus. The Israelites were miserable when the Egyptians made them slaves and looked to Moses to rescue them from their poor situation, but as soon as they left Egypt and had to rely on God every single step of the way, they quickly started complaining, actually wanting to return to Egypt and a life of slavery. As is abundantly clear throughout the book of Exodus, trusting God is not an easy thing and neither does it mean that everything will go smoothly. Yet, it is the right way to live. I sincerely believe that. It is my hope that I can embrace a life of trusting God and not look back to times when I was seemingly "innocent."
Jesus, I need you now. I have always needed you. I will always need you. I'm not going back to Egypt.