I’ve read quite a few books that have made me cry.
(Here are the books I can immediately recall, although I know there are many more: The Return of the King by J.R.R. Tolkien; Love You Forever by Robert Munsch; An Island Story by H.E. Marshall, specifically “The Story of St. Alban”; The Warden and the Wolf King by Andrew Peterson; and James Herriot’s Treasury for Children, “The Christmas Kitten.”)
Today I added The Velveteen Rabbit to the list. About halfway through the story I couldn’t hold back my tears anymore. My kids know when I’m about to start crying: my voice shakes a little, my words falter, and I stop reading to take a couple deep breaths. I didn’t sob today, but I did take a moment to enjoy the happy drops of saltwater that collected in the corners of my eyes. They show that the story meant something to me, and I relish reading a story that makes me feel so hopeful and so loved. Here’s what I noticed about The Velveteen Rabbit, rereading the story as a mom to her children with the gospel in mind.
‘Real isn’t how you are made,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time not just to play with, but really loves you, then you become Real.’
‘Does it hurt?’ asked the Rabbit.
‘Sometimes,’ said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. ‘When you are real, you don’t mind being hurt.’
When the story begins, the velveteen Rabbit doesn’t know who he is. He knows he doesn’t belong with the wind-up toys. They’re made out of hard and cold metal; he’s made out of soft and comfortable sawdust. He isn’t new or fancy, either, and he doesn’t easily break. The Rabbit ends up cast-off and alone in a corner of the nursery, forgotten by the Boy for the time being. The Skin Horse befriends him and they have a heart-to-heart conversation about how a toy becomes Real. After a little while, the Boy’s Nana brings the Velveteen Rabbit to him because he can’t find his special china dog. A whole new life with the Boy begins for the Rabbit, filled with love and friendship.
I see myself in the Velveteen Rabbit—less beautiful and more old-fashioned than my counterparts. Frankly, I sometimes feel as though I don’t fit in anywhere. I wonder: how do I become who I’m meant to be? And how do I become comfortable in my own fur? In the story, the Boy’s love makes the Rabbit become Real. In our lives, God’s love makes us become more Real versions of ourselves. He transforms us from sinners into saints, from slaves into servants, and from orphaned outcasts into beloved children. We find our identity in Christ. The more we know of his redeeming love, the more we know of ourselves.
God sees beyond our fading pink satin ears and fraying whiskers, and even beyond our sawdust frames. He sees Jesus’ perfect obedience instead of our shabby sinfulness. We may not look Real to the outside world because we still struggle against our sinful nature, but we can securely rest in the Holy Spirit’s work in our hearts–the work that goes on in the hidden places of our souls. Jesus’ unique love for us “transforms us from one degree of glory into another” (2 Corinthians 3:18). The process of being inwardly changed can hurt, but it is well worth the pain. We become who we’re meant to be when Jesus’ salvation and grace define who we are. Through Jesus’ love we become the most Real and true versions of ourselves we can be on this earth.
The little Rabbit lay among the old picture books in the corner behind the fowl house, and he felt very lonely…He was shivering a little, for he had always been used to sleeping in a proper bed, and by this time his coat had worn so thin and threadbare from hugging that it was not longer any protection to him.
That isn’t the end of the story for us, nor for the Velveteen Rabbit. The Rabbit finds himself cast-off again, this time alone in the forest. He is able to cry salty, sorrowful, real tears because the Boy made him Real. The nursery magic Fairy comes to the Rabbit, gently and silently in the night. She transforms him into his final glory with the power of her kiss. He becomes Real to everyone instead of only being Real to the Boy, and lives on as a Rabbit altogether different.
First Corinthians 15:51-52 says, “Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.”
Just like the Velveteen Rabbit, we will all be changed in the twinkling of an eye. We’ll leave our shabby and downtrodden frames behind, which while on earth bore the love and loss of a lifetime, and we’ll exchange them for truly real and truly alive bodies that will never fade or perish. They’ll reflect God’s unchangeable love as he truly meant it to be reflected in us, with no spot or stain of sin. We’ll live with our fellow rabbits forever serving the God who loved us so much that he chose to make us Real through Jesus.
The older I get, the more I see the message of the gospel hidden in stories like The Velveteen Rabbit. Stories like these reflect the greatest story: that Jesus came to earth as a baby to redeem his people. He not only redeems us, he transforms us, and we will never be the same.
Header image by Komako Sakai, from her 1990 picture-book retelling of the story, as featured on Dismantle.