Years ago, when I was in my teens, I heard about the monkey jar for the first time. I think, perhaps, it was a missionary speaking about his travels--both the spiritual experiences and the cultural differences that he had learned from. I don't remember where he said he had traveled; I would guess it was somewhere in Asia. I do, however, remember learning how to catch a monkey,
I'm sure you've probably seen monkeys at the zoo. They are fast--they climb, they jump, they cling and they swing--I know I wouldn't want to try to chase one! Actually, no one wants to, and that is the reason for the monkey jar. It's simple really; the trapper places a piece of fruit (that barely fits through the opening) into a jar or clay pot and leaves it out in the open. The monkey is attracted by the scent of the fruit and investigates, finding a sweet offering that is easy pickings. The monkey places its hand into the jar to retrieve the fruit, but then cannot get its hand out of the jar without letting go of the fruit. If only it could open its fist and let go of what seems so important! But, the same greedy appetite that attracted the monkey to the jar, keeps it a prisoner. The trapper can approach the monkey and contain it with a net or a rope because the monkey will not let go of the "treasure" it has found.
I thought of the monkey the other night as I was trying to fall asleep. All evening my thoughts had been consumed with various ideas, concerns, and responsibilities; racing through one "important" thing to do after another. I was primarily concerned about my new role as a leader for my OBS Facebook small group. My mind was filled with questions and ideas and seemed to jump from thought to thought in my enthusiasm about facilitating our study of "What Happens When Women Say Yes to God" by Lysa TerKeurst. One minute I was considering Facebook parties and group participation contests and the next minute I was pondering blog topics. As my thoughts careened about my head, I realized the evening had passed and I had not accomplished a thing! My brain was so full of ideas that nothing cohesive was happening. I was so greedy for my own accomplishment that I was trapped by the enormity of my plans. My brain was so full, as I grasped at doing things perfectly, that I could not use it to do anything.
I've felt trapped like that for days. Each day I would open my email or visit the study blog and find something else I needed to do; spinning my wheels doing important things and never getting traction on the best things. I held on tight--doing what I do best--making lists of important tasks and multitasking through the job at hand--striving to do each task as perfectly as possible. I tried to focus on Jeremiah 29:13, "You will seek Me and find Me when you seek me with all your heart", but it seemed like my "seeker" wasn't working very well. My joy was slipping away and I was feeling panicky.
That changed this morning. I began my quiet time by reading the blog and posting the link for my group, and then I sat down to study. I was working on the questions for chapter two and realized that God wanted to talk to me about how I am taking care of myself and how I set boundaries. He spoke to me about the "junk" in my life--too much time in front of the TV at night, treating myself to the wrong foods because I was stressed out, and the time I was wasting comparing myself to others. These habits have become poison to my body and my soul. God asked me to consider that fact that I am not perfect. He wanted me to realize that I cannot do everything, be everything, experience everything, and have everything; that is greedy--just like the monkey with his hand in the jar. I can't hold on to everything; it's a trap--just like the fragrant fruit. It might seem desirable, but it leads to captivity and death. No, my hands must be opened to let go of the things that are holding me back and they must stay open to receive the blessings God is waiting to place there. I don't get to tell God just how I want things done and I don't get to grab the blessings of my choice, because grabbing leads me right back to the monkey jar of things I can't let go of. My palms must be up and my heart must be open to say "where are You leading and what do You want of me, Lord?"
It's time to say "NO" to paralyzing perfectionism; "NO" to hours wasted on mindless entertainment; "NO" to medicating my stress with food. It's time to take my hand out of these monkey jars and experience the true freedom that comes with obedience.