When I was younger, I had a terrible speech impediment.
At the age of five, I couldn’t properly pronounce thirteen of the twenty-six letters of the alphabet, and 60% of my language was deemed unintelligible. My parents, of course, could translate my cryptic communication, but they were about the only ones.
My difficulties occasionally made for humorous interactions. When asked about my father, I’d respond, “My dad is gone.” This was usually met with sympathetic glances and awkward attempts at comfort, rather than a realization that my dad’s name was “John” and I just didn’t know how to talk.
Because of my speech impediment, I went to speech therapy every day with (I kid you not) Dr. Lipschitz, whose name I ironically had no problem saying. And rather than practicing vocal exercises or discussing that one girl’s seashell business located down by the beach like most speech therapists would do, we set our sights on something a bit more relevant: Australian fauna.
As a result, I have a somewhat extraordinary understanding of marsupials, monotremes, and all of the other abnormal animals that God no doubt let Adam design. And one animal I find particularly interesting: the opossum.
The opossum (not to be confused with its poser cousin, the regular possum) is one of the few marsupials native to the United States. And when threatened, it does a peculiar thing. It plays possum. This is a defense mechanism where the opossum will attempt to imitate the appearance of a dead carcass, basically “playing dead.” When it senses danger, the opossum will black out, and then involuntarily sprawl out as stiff as a board, draw its lips back and bare its teeth, start drooling, close its eyes (or partially close them for extended periods of time without blinking, depending on how committed he is), and emit a foul stench from its anus. The goal is to ward off predators with this little charade, hoping the hungry animal will be grossed out and look for a more conscious, better smelling marsupial to consume.
As I reminisce about my childhood therapy and remember the magnificent qualities of this noble creature, I can’t help but see the opossum as a perfect metaphor for the church.
The defining characteristic of the born-again Christian is that we are alive. The rest of humanity roams the world in darkness and spiritual death, but we have been given God’s divine life.
And yet, we spend our lives trying to blend in with the world. We hide this life we have been given under a bushel, hoping that everyone else will think we are just like them: Weak. Confused. Lost. Dead.
But the truth is, you are not like them. You are different. You have something they don’t have. Something they need. You have the life of God within you.
So quit playing possum, Christian soldier, and rise to your feet. Live the life you have been given. Let your light shine out into the darkness. Let that life transform the world. It’s the only thing that can.
And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins. (Ephesians 2:1)
[ Your Turn: Many of God’s majestic beasts make for great sermon illustrations. I mean, why else would he invent the wildebeest? What animals do you think make for great analogies concerning Christians or the church? Let me know in the comments! ]