The Theology of Fairy Tales

Among well-meaning mothers, princesses can be a hot topic. Some mothers love ’em, some mothers hate ’em, so I will try to tread lightly. My two year old, Lily, grew up with trucks for toys, yet she was always drawn to beautiful things. She loves the color pink, and insists on wearing twirly dresses. I didn’t own any dresses for her except one or two that she wore over and over, so I had to go buy her some more.

Last night, I cleaned the upholstery on our dining room chairs. This morning, it was the first thing she noticed. “Mommy! You cleaned the chairs! They’re so beautiful!” Timothy would describe things he liked as amazing. Lily describes things she likes as beautiful. This is because women were made to reflect the beauty of God.

As so, I think you can find good theology in many fairy tales and princess movies. The same goes for boys loving superheroes. There is a battle between good and evil and each one of us has a part to play. Girls love to identify with the beautiful princess. Not because she is helpless and needs rescued, but because girls desire to be pursued, fought for, and triumph over evil.

As parents, we have a lot of say in how these Disney princesses are perceived, and the lessons our girls learn from it. Lily only wants to read books about princesses, so we have found some at the library and the thrift store that emphasize that princesses share and take turns. Also, there are a lot of princess saints, so you can read about them as well!

The main lesson to get across through fairy tales is that God made your daughter to be a reflection of His beauty. She is in a war between good and evil, and God wants to capture her heart. God wants to win her for the Kingdom of Heaven, so He will search after her and fight for her to do so. What girl doesn’t love that kind of story!

Below is an abbreviated version of a talk I used to give on the 8th grade girls retreat when I was a youth minister. That retreat was one of my favorite parts of the year and this talk was one of my favorites, too. So if your daughters go the princess route, perhaps it can help navigate some good theology!

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Take Cinderella. A lowly servant girl who has natural beauty. It’s just that other people have more power over her. They convince her she’s not good enough to go to the ball. But she still has hopes and dreams. And then, the ball.

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Why do we like this scene so much? Because it resonates with the way we were created: an ordinary girl becomes a princess. The prince notices her immediately and pursues her. Even when she runs away out of fear, the prince wont give up looking for her. Just like God never stops pursuing us.

In the scene where they are jumping on the bed, the Duke tells the King its just a fairy tale, it cant come true. But we like fairy tales for that reason: we hope that they can indeed come true.

All fairy tales involve what? A struggle between good and evil where good wins through love. Our fairy tale is the greatest love story ever. And its real!! Just look in the bible. For thousands of years God has been trying to capture our hearts. He can get pretty creative too – plagues, manna in the desert, talking through a burning bush.

Jesus is a person alive in your heart and desires your happiness. He is the prince who won’t give up chasing after your heart. He created you for GREATNESS!

Let’s go to creation to look and see our story of greatness: God made it and it was good – until man and woman. Then creation was very good. Humans are the high point! Genesis Ch. 2: “It is not good for man to be alone.” So God made woman. And then he had nothing better to make, so He was finished 🙂  As male and female together, they imaged the love of the Trinity.

So, if God wants to love us and speak to our hearts, why don’t we feel that way?
It’s the same reason Cinderella didn’t feel she was worthy to go to the ball. We have been convinced that there is something better than God’s love for us: Boys, sports, your favorite TV show. Being popular. And that’s messed up. It’s not the way its supposed to be, and that’s why you don’t feel loved by God all the time.
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Cinderella’s evil stepmother – her eyes go green with jealously that Cinderella is more beautiful than her daughters. The Cat’s name is Lucifer for heaven’s sake!
images-1Satan is jealous of our beauty and that God made us for greatness! Because Adam and Eve completed creation, and satan wants to be the best. And so if he can get us to be jealous of each other, if he can get us to doubt God, if he can get us to sin, he’s won.

Genesis 3:4- Satan says “can you not eat from any trees? If do you, you will be like God and know”…Deception! Lies! God make us in his image and likeness. We are already like God. But the doubt was planted – maybe God is holding out on us. Maybe there is something better. And so it began: our doubting that God wants the best for us. And so we turn away.

But we deserve to be rescued from evil!  What if Cinderella just stayed up in the attic? What if you convinced yourself that it’s easier to stay in your sin than be freed from it? You wouldn’t experience the adventure that you were created for.

But we have our proof of royalty in our Baptism and Confirmation. Like the proof of Cinderella’s glass slipper. We are reminded that we can claim those gifts and use those graces to fight evil.

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So how do we overcome evil? What is our example of greatness? The Cross. But we don’t want to suffer or give ourselves to the Cross. So we give our hearts to boy bands and to jealously, and suffer in a more meaningless way. And in doing so, we miss out on being a part of the greatest love story, the greatest fairy tale ever told. Only this one is real, and with an act of true love, the dead come back to life!

This MAN, this PRINCE, has come in disguise and gave up his life for you to restore you to the princess you are. In Him lies your happiness, the key to your greatness.

1 John 4:9 “In this way the love of God was revealed to us: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might have life through him.”Jesus-on-Cross

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Sex Ed Cont’d: Chastity and Frozen

(somewhat a continuation of my previous post that Sex Ed Starts at Birth. They are born, so now what?)

Another headline I saw recently was, “Why Shame-Based Abstinence Education doesn’t work.” And I would have to agree. But I would have to say that shoving contraception in their face doesn’t work either. There is a third way, a way that is very well demonstrated in the movie “Frozen.”

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Queen Elsa was born with this power to make things freeze. A power that “can be beautiful but dangerous.” When she was young she would make beautiful snowflakes and snowmen and have all sorts of fun with it. Then, after accidentally hurting her sister at a young age, her well-intentioned father teaches Else to “conceal, don’t feel” and to wear gloves. Well, Elsa shuts everyone else out of her life because she is afraid of her power. Eventually, she brings the whole town into a deep winter freeze. She runs up a mountain to an isolated castle of ice to unleash her power. She doesn’t think she can ever change her frozen nature until an act of true love from her sister, who sacrifices her life for her. Then she realizes it’s love that can thaw the freeze and tame her power. Not a true love’s kiss kind of love, but an act of self-sacrifice and giving.

I see Elsa’s powers as our human sexuality. Our sexual urges can be strong, like Elsa’s powers, but if we try to bottle them up, they can explode. We are made to feel, in a poor abstinence program, that our sexuality is dangerous and we should be ashamed of it and hide it. Many well-intentioned parents don’t want to talk about sex until their kids are full grown (conceal, don’t feel). You get STD’s and unwanted pregnancies from sex, so sex is bad.

Actually, our sexuality is good! It is meant to be beautiful and life-giving, but without proper context it can be very dangerous. We can definitely hurt people with this power, and so I think we are, as a country, stuck in a deep winter freeze. We are all in our isolated castles, doing what we want with our powers. We are our own king or queen. But we were not made for loneliness. Our sexuality was made to be a gift of true love. With everything from campus rape culture, child predators, pornography, cohabitation, and divorce so common and painful, it’s obvious we are lacking in authentic love.

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So there is a third way, a way of Chastity, a way of love. What was able to thaw the deep freeze in the movie “Frozen”? An act of sacrifice – willing to put your own life in front of your beloved. So how do you channel such a strong emotion as our sexuality into something beautiful, creative, and authentic? Love.

The Catechism definition of Chastity is “the successful integration of sexuality within the person and thus the inner unity of man in his bodily and spiritual being.” For a long time I had a hard time understanding that verbiage, but the movie helps illustrate the point. Our sexual desires are meant to be expressed in our body in the proper context. We are made to love. So when we take our powers of sexuality and move from fear and selfishness to courage and generosity, we become wholly who we are meant to be. Our bodies are visible signs of the invisible love of God within us.

So chastity is for everyone, on every path of life, because we are all human, we have bodies, and we are all meant for love. We easily think of priests and nuns called to chastity, but married people need to be authentic in their gift of self, too. Teens should see sex as something to look forward to, and prepare themselves for accordingly. How? By taking time to discover themselves- talents, fears, hopes, desires. You can’t give yourself in a sexual act of love if you don’t even know who you are. You can use your desire to love to serve your friends and community while preparing yourselves for your vocation someday. Mission trips and service projects are great acts of self-sacrifice.

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Then, in marriage, sex becomes a language of love, more powerful than words could ever say. This act of love speaks of permanence, faithfulness, totality, and openness to life. Did you know your marriage vows aren’t complete until you ratify it with your actions? It’s meant to be a beautiful reflection of the love of God in the same ways as your vows.

So hopefully the takeaway from this is: 1. Watch the movie “Frozen.” 2. Pray, research, reflect on the virtue of chastity, whether it be for your kids sake, your marriage, or your current state in life. God has something waiting for you to discover.

Sex Ed Starts At Birth

(writer’s note: this short blog post is not meant to be a comprehensive plan for sex ed. These are just some thoughts about raising kids that hopefully will inspire you to further reflection and education on the subject.)

I recently came across this article on the PBS website called The Case for Starting Sex Education in Kindergarten.

It explains the comprehensive sex ed program taught in schools in the Netherlands. I was pretty horrified by the content of the country-mandated program, but what they do have right is the idea that sexuality is part of who you are and shouldn’t be avoided. In kindergarten they aren’t using the word “sex” and instead are talking more about feelings and identity in the early years, but it got me thinking that really we should be starting sex ed at birth.

It's a girl!

It’s a girl!

Because, with the exception of a very small percentage of people, you are born with male or female parts, and that’s a good place to begin. You are born male or female, and your sexuality is a part of who you are. God made your body, so it’s good. In fact, our male or female bodies are meant to be a visible image of certain aspects of the person of God, equal but complimentary. You were loved into being by God, you are born to be loved by your parents, and you were made to love others. Your whole life is meant to be about true, self-giving love. And sexuality is tied to love.

You first learn to love in a self-giving way in your family. Giving hugs and kisses to your parents, sharing toys with siblings, and obeying and growing in responsibility. My husband and I were talking yesterday about how it’s important that kids see their parents be affectionate with each other, because this is where they learn. The family is the first school- for many things, including “sex ed.”

There is a lot of gender confusion in our society, so as babies grow, parents should help them see how their masculinity or femininity helps them in relation to others and to God. Not all girls need to wear princess dresses to be fully feminine (I preferred shorts) and not all boys need to like weapons (though if they do that’s okay!) to be fully masculine. But you are either male or female, so even though your hobbies and interests and feelings change over time, your physical parts wont and therefore neither will the core of your identity.

Lastly, parents should tell their girls they are beautiful and guys that they are handsome and strong. Give them a solid foundation for their self-image. Because as you approach adolescence, the sex conversation will have to change and their self-esteem will be under attack. But at least you’ve given them a good foundation. Which will lead me to my next blog post, so stay tuned!

“The body, and it alone, is capable of making visible what is invisible, the spiritual and divine. It was created to transfer into the visible reality of the world, the invisible mystery hidden in God from time immemorial, and thus to be a sign of it” (St. John Paul II, Feb 20, 1980).