When I was very young I owned a teddy bear. I can’t remember when he came into my life, or who gave him to me. What I do know is that for the relatively short time that I had him I had hugged the golden fur off his body, squeezed him until his reassuringly friendly growl was silenced and somehow managed to crack a chunk from one of his huge orange and brown eyes. Ted (no fancy names for my bear) had a sort of sad, serious and solemn face, a face that made him look as if you alone had his total and complete attention, and that he silently empathised with the way you felt.
Little wonder, then, that Ted shared some of the deepest secrets of my young life. Propped up on the pillow at the end of my bed he would listen to all my hopes and dreams, the things that made me afraid, the injustices that assaulted my young life and the things that made me rapturously happy. He always listened, with one and three-quarter eyes only for me. He never said anything to make me feel better or even understood, but time talking to Ted always made me feel better.
Then when I was about nine years old I became a follower of Jesus. I started to talk to Him instead. My worries at school, my successes and failures in love, what I should do with my life and a whole host of matters great and small became the subject of times spent talking with Jesus. I even had a new word for these times: prayer. Talking to Jesus needed a special word – it was so much more important than talking with Ted.
At some point, Ted disappeared from my life. Maybe it was as I grew and other things became more important in my maturing life. Perhaps it happened when I moved away from home. I don’t even remember it being of any significance…Ted had long- since ceased to matter.
One day a group of us were talking about things we remembered that had significance in our lives during our growing-up years…people, places, events and special possessions.
After years of forgetfulness I remembered Ted. I shared his story.
I also started to wonder, as older, battle-weary and cynical people often do, if these life- events are everything we crack them up to be; in particular, I worried that I had simply swapped talking to a tangible Ted to talking to an invisible (and maybe imaginary) Jesus. Did I just need a way to exorcise my demons, to overflow my joy and to rehearse my dreams in the absence of flesh and blood people I could trust and rely on?
For a whole host of reasons I concluded that there was a striking difference between talking to Ted and ‘praying’ to Jesus, even though sometimes Jesus seems just as sympathetically silent as Ted ever was. The fact that I saw a difference is one of the reasons why I am still a follower of Jesus half a century plus further in my life…and I will freely confess that there have been times when I’ve tried to lose Jesus every bit as seriously as I lost Ted, partly because He seems to talk back and make demands on me that Ted never did.
But even after trying to lose Jesus for several years in my early twenties, I discovered that there are some things you just can’t lose, however much you tried.
You know (and my mum clearly recognised) that you’re getting older when things, people, events and places from your past, particularly those in which you’ve invested emotion, suddenly take on a new importance. So yes, of course he came home with me.
He shares a special box with a number of other significant stuffed memories, like the “bluebird of happiness” lovingly rescued from the school Christmas sale by my second son and given to me at a time in my life when I needed all the happiness I could get (by the way, Brett, the “bluebird of happiness” worked…but that’s another story).
Ted will always be special, but he is ‘just’ a balding stuffed toy. Jesus, on the other hand, is a bit more difficult to dismiss.