Saturday, July 26, 2014

Do You Want to Build a Snowman?

Last weekend Disney Channel did a Circle of Stars version of Do You Want to Build a Snowman from Frozen (here’s the link if you’re curious) and it reminded me how much I love that song. It’s actually my favorite song from the movie because in addition to being adorable/touching and the song my mom and I sang variations of to each other over the phone almost every day for like 5 months after we saw the movie (which was the “midnight” 8pm showing the night before it opened), it’s really relatable. True, most of us don’t have sisters with magical powers who locked themselves away to avoid hurting us, but I think almost all of us have been in a situation like Anna and Elsa’s at least once in our lives. We might have been Elsa, hiding away for whatever reason, or we might have been Anna, desperately trying to get the person on the other side of that metaphorical door to just come out and talk. Either way, it’s hard to be in that situation and it takes real love to resolve.

There are numerous reasons why people hide themselves away: They’re tired of hurting people or scared they’re going to do so. They’re ashamed of who they are or something they’ve done. They feel lost or angry or upset or like a failure and don’t want people feeling sorry for them or to make them confront whatever is causing the negative feelings; so they think it’s better to just hide away where no one can ask them what’s wrong. They’re tired of being rejected and they decide to just reject the world in hopes that it will make the rejection hurt a little less. They feel like a burden and think the best way to avoid that is by getting out of everyone’s lives.

But as Anna says in the movie, “No one wants to be alone.” I think no matter how much people isolate themselves, no matter how introverted they are, they don’t want to be truly alone. We’re social creatures by nature and we need to be connected with people in some way. True connections, not superficial ones. The kind where you know the other person is there, where it’s mutual, where both of you can be completely honest with each other and tell each other anything and know the other will still accept you, where you can talk about light-hearted things but also heavy subjects, where you just “get” each other and can be yourself. These can be family connections or friend connections, and they’re the kind where even if you’re thousands of miles apart (either literally or figuratively) that connection doesn’t fade.

That’s where the Annas of the world come in. They love the Elsas and they still try to keep that connection even when the Elsas try to shut them and the world out. They keep asking “Do you want to build a snowman?” and don’t give up on the Elsas no matter how much the Elsa’s say to go away and no matter how much time has passed. They check up on them and let them know that they’re not alone. That they are wanted, that they are loved. That it’s okay to be scared because they’re right out there to be with them through the scary things. And they let all the Elsas know that all they need to do is let the Annas in by opening that door.

I think sometimes all the Elsas really need are their loved ones assuring them that they do love them and that it’d better if they’re together because the Elsas long for that connection. Look how close Elsa was to Anna—she didn’t go onto the other side of the room whenever Anna knocked, but rather was either close enough to listen or right there pressed up against the door. She also didn’t isolate herself from her parents, but just kept her physical distance because she didn’t want to hurt them. The thing with human relationships is we’re always going to end up hurting each other and arguing, even with the people we love most in the world. But it’s because we love them that we forgive them when they hurt us. It’s because we love them that we accept them for who they are and we still care about them no matter what is going on in their lives. But sometimes we forget this and think we’re not lovable or loved and we need to be reminded that we are. Sometimes we don’t even realize that we have hidden ourselves away until someone comes and knocks on that door. But like Elsa discovered, hiding doesn’t solve anything. We aren’t free when we’re alone and we don’t stop hurting others by hiding away from them.

The Annas need the Elsas too. A good chunk of the lyrics in Do You Want to Build a Snowman are about how Anna is lonely and not only wants Elsa to come play with her and be friends like before, but also to be with her so they can get through the hard times together. Real friendship is a mutual thing and when the Elsas hide away it makes the Annas sad because they miss being with them. The knocking on the door is because the Annas love the Elsas and thus are concerned about them, but also because the Annas yearn for that friendship to be like it was before and to spend time with that person. If you’re an Elsa, trust the Annas when they come knocking that they really do care and love you, and open up the door. If they took the effort to knock, it means they want to be with you and they will accept you no matter what. Friends do things together—they help each other out. And when the Annas and Elsas are together, it’s a wonderful thing and great things can come of it. Perhaps not as dramatic as thawing out an eternal winter and turning the kingdom into an ice park, but true friends bring out the best in each other and help each other reach their fullest potential.

If we notice a friend has withdrawn, it might be a good idea to see how they’re doing—send them a friendly message just letting them know you care. Even a simple “hey what’s up it’s been awhile I miss you” kind of thing or just a fun video from someplace like Youtube with a message along the lines of “I thought you’d like this” would be good ways to start. Knock on their door. Ask whatever your equivalent is for “Do you want to build a snowman?” Of course use your best judgment for what would be the most productive way to reach out, but whatever you decide on, just do that. If they reject you, let them know that the offer still stands and that you’re there for them if they want to talk or hang out or whatever. Try knocking again later. Don’t give up on them and be patient. If you can’t help them or reach out to them, perhaps you know someone else who can.

Now all this is for people going through rough times or hiding out for any of the reasons I listed at the beginning. This isn’t talking about people with medical conditions, like depression. In those cases, the Annas need to reach out in whatever ways make the most sense for the situation and assist the Elsas so they can get the medical help they need. This also isn’t talking about cases where the person really wants nothing to do with you and they’re only hiding away from you (although that case might require some talking just to patch up the friendship to the point you can be civil and friendly to each other even if you’re not friends anymore). And I realize that some people withdraw because they do really want that alone time. I know I tend to become an “academic hermit” during super busy times at school, like midterms and finals, because I need to sort of shut the world out in order to focus and get everything done. Sometimes people just get busy with life and that’s a very different kind of withdrawing than the Elsa situation. So it’s important to be aware of those possibilities but even in those cases simply reaching out to the person and letting them know you’re there when they do want to talk or hang out can mean a lot.

A lot of times, though, the Elsas don’t have Annas in their lives. I think that’s where we as Christians (or really any of us with a big heart) are called to step up. Sometimes it’s hard to identify the Elsas because they hide themselves away so well, but other times, you can clearly tell who they are. Showing them friendship or any simple act of kindness or letting them know you’re there for them can be a huge thing. We need to be that little bit of light in their darkness. Sometimes they’re just shy, but even then reaching out by saying hi or sitting with them at lunch can really brighten their day, and possibly lead to a new friendship between you two if you discover you have things in common. It’s true reaching out to strangers or mere acquaintances can be harder and sometimes they lash out at us. In those cases we might ask advice from a trusted adult—a teacher, our parents, a religious leader, etc—for what we should do in that specific situation.

Like the Fixer-Upper song says, “people make bad choices when they’re mad or scared or stressed. But throw a little love their way and you’ll bring out their best.” We do tend to make bad choices under those circumstances, such as hiding ourselves away from the world or harming ourselves or others. But I think if all of us act loving towards every person we meet it can make a positive difference. Think about it—when some stranger acts like a total jerk to you for no reason, you get upset, often for the rest of the day. But when a stranger shows you an act of kindness for no reason, it makes you happy, often for the rest of the day. We’re called to be that stranger who is kind to all we meet, even if that kindness is as simple as genuinely smiling when you make eye contact with people as you pass them by.

A similar situation can occur with our relationship with God where we’re the Elsa and shut ourselves off from God. The reasons for why we might do this are too numerous to list, but in general they stem from fear of God (either the good kind of fearing Him because He’s so amazing or the bad kind of fearing He’s so powerful He could kill us at any moment), anger at God, apathy towards God, or being ashamed of something we’ve done/being frozen in our sin and not wanting to turn to Him. 

But just like how Anna was always there waiting for Elsa, God is there waiting too and continually knocking and asking the equivalent of “Do you want to build a snowman?” by asking “Do you want a relationship with me?” We might tell Him to go away like Elsa did with Anna when they were really little kids. We might ignore Him like Elsa did when they were older kids. Or we might be like teenage Elsa, sitting pressed up against the door, just wishing we had the courage to open it up and desperately wanting to reconnect, but still being unable to because we’re so frozen in whatever reason made us turn away in the first place. Whatever stage we’re at, no matter how many years go by, God is still there right outside that door waiting for us to come back. Even when we hurt Him through our sins or by ignoring Him, He’s still right there and loves us just as much—similar to how even after Elsa hurt Anna with her powers and kicked her out of the ice palace, Anna still showed unconditional love and sacrificed herself to save Elsa. God did the same for us when Jesus died for us. He loves us no matter what, and all we have to do is turn back to Him and reconnect. He wants a relationship with us as much as we long for one with Him and we need to remember that no matter how flawed we are or how many times we’re going to keep hurting Him, He will always love us and be there for us.

Whether we’re connected to God or not—although this is especially true when we are connected to Him—He asks us a second variation on “Do you want to build a snowman?” by asking “Do you want to do what I’m calling you to do?” This calling is different for every person and we usually have several things He is calling us to do. It can be a calling for a specific vocation. It can be a calling to develop and use our talents. It can be a calling to reach out to people in our lives, whether they’re family or friends or neighbors. Much like how Elsa did not fully become herself until she came out and said (with her actions), “Yes, I want to build a snowman!” we don’t fully become ourselves until we accept that calling and start to act on it. Even if you’re not religious in any way, it’s likely that you still feel deep down that you were born to do something. So listen to that inner voice (which according to the Catholic theologian Thomas Merton is actually God’s voice within us) that calls you and drives you to do the things that make you feel the most alive. The things you know are what you’re supposed to be doing with your life. When we say yes to whatever our equivalent is of “Do you want to build a snowman” is we form or strengthen a connection—whether it’s with a family member or friend, God, or however our calling intersects with the world—and that connection helps to bring a little bit more light into this dark world and help turn the winter into summer. 

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