I’m sure you know the children’s book, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. It tells the story of a sweet little mouse who is hopelessly trapped in a circular tale of desire. He gets the cookie and realizes he wants milk. The milk makes him need napkin. The napkin reminds him that he wants to color. Coloring reminds him that he’s hungry. And so it goes…
A couple of months ago, I re-read this book inside Minneapolis’ Wild Rumpus Bookstore for Children. As a chicken ran around my feet and a cat nuzzled my leg, I was struck by this bedtime story’s similarity to my twenty-something life. Then again, isn’t that often how it goes with things that were meant for little ones?
Because, for as far as I’d like to imagine that I’ve come, I’m really no better than the mouse. Except we’ve swapped cookies and coloring for larger circumstances, life-related answers, and more adult-sized longings:
If the Lord gives Maddie a cookie, she’ll probably wonder where she’s going to eat the cookie.
When the Lord tells her where she can eat the cookie, she’ll probably wonder who she can share the cookie with.
When the Lord tells her that the people she will share the cookie with aren’t here yet, she’ll probably wonder when they will show up.
In waiting for them to show up, she’ll probably realize she wants some milk to go along with the cookie. So she’ll start praying for milk.
When the Lord gives her a glass of milk, she’ll drink it (probably forgetting to say “thank you”) and then ask for a napkin to wipe her face with.
Waiting for the napkin will remind her that she was also waiting on people to share her cookie with, which was the point of the milk in the first place.
One answer leads to the next, except the answers always seems to perpetuate more questions, more desires, more expectations about what’s next. Questions about today lead into questions about my future which remind me that I have questions about timing and purpose and desire and expectations, and next thing I know I’m searching for more answers than I am enjoying the cookie in front of me.
As much as I want to believe that I don’t fall into patterns like the little mouse, if I’m honest, it’s easier than I’d like to fall into this “giving a mouse her cookie” spirituality. I tell the Lord that if He’ll be clear about this one thing that I’ll be able to fully rest in trusting Him. If only I knew what internship or job to take, where I’m going to live after graduation, what my future community will look like, if I’ll get the scholarship, if I’ll ever end up overseas, who He’s asking me to serve with, etc. then I wouldn’t be so crazy, obsessive, or confused. I say that I’m not looking for answers to everything, just this one thing. Except it’s never just this one thing. As soon as the Lord gives me clarity on step 2, I’ve already begun searching for steps 3 and 4. The next thing I know, my trust in the Lord has gone out the window and I’ve convinced myself that I’ll be satisfied after the next step, but the next step never comes. The hamster wheel never flattens out and so we just keep running and spinning…fretting about what’s next, searching for the next answered prayer, all while missing what’s in the moment and being grateful for what’s passed.
The first step is realizing when we’ve fallen into patterns of running on the wheel and the second step is jumping off. Smelling the flowers. Enjoying our cookie. Sharing with the people around us. Expecting the napkin to come, sure, because God is a God who delights in providing and calls us to depend. But not worrying about the crumbs that are falling while we wait.