Help Me, Mr. Wizard!
Many of us who watched television as children in the early 1960s included King Leonardo and his Short Subjects (later renamed The King and Odie) in our Saturday morning schedule. One recurring segment involved Tooter Turtle, a young turtle living in the forest who wasn’t content with being a young turtle living in the forest. Because of this, he regularly (over 39 episodes) visited the lizard known as Mr. Wizard, asking him to change the time and place of his circumstances.
Tooter thought that going to another time and place would give him the opportunity to remake himself. In every episode, Mr. Wizard sent him off to new experiences, including working high iron, exploring the polar regions, flying a plane, and even riding with the U. S. Cavalry (which ended at Little Big Horn). The trouble was always the same: You can take the turtle out of the forest, but you can’t take the foolish thinking out of the turtle.
However, Tooter never suffered permanent consequences — at least not until his cartoon show was cancelled. Whenever a new endeavor collapsed and he was on the brink of absolute ruin or certain death, he would call out, “Help me, Mr. Wizard!”
As soon he cried out for help, Mr. Wizard chanted, “Drizzle, drazzle, druzzle, drome; time for zis one to come home.” A swirling spell surrounded Tooter, who quickly reappeared in the lizard’s presence. After his return, Mr. Wizard gave him the same advice every time: “Be just vhat you is, not vhat you is not. Folks vhat do zis are ze happiest lot.”
Discontent with our own lives may lead us into like troubles. We may try to be someone we are not or do things for which we are unprepared. People reinvent their pasts and tell a story contrary to their personal histories. They become heroes when they were once participants, participants when they were once observers, or observers when they were once uninvolved.
Among our cultural stereotypes is the man facing a mid-life crisis. This movie and television plot staple feels trapped by a dead-end job or a marriage without the zest it once had. In milder settings, he makes foolish purchases of a motorcycle or a sports car or he starts dressing, talking, and acting like someone years younger. In more serious shows, he may have an affair or just walk out on his family, perhaps taking a new, younger wife. The reason this Hollywood stereotype abounds is that it’s built on actual events that happen all too often in the “real world.”
While aging white men are the customary on-screen culprits, no segment of society is without people desiring to be something — or someone — different and better from the way they perceive themselves. Yet, like Tooter Turtle, the fantasies they invent for themselves always seems to unravel, often with extreme consequences.
This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t examine ourselves nor that we should be satisfied with our personal mediocrity. It means that we should pin our hopes for positive, real, and permanent change on something more than reinterpreted memories and wishful thinking. For example, the imprisoned Saint Paul wrote, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. (Philippians 4:11)”
However, Paul’s contentment was with his station in life, not who he was by nature. For this same apostle could also complain about himself, “I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh.... Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? (Romans 7:18, 24)”
Paul recognized that the Source of his contentment was also his Rescuer from discontent: Rather than inventing a new version of himself, he turned over his old, sinful self to God. Instead of chasing fantasies of what might have been, Paul focused on the reality of Christ crucified for his sins and raised for his justification (cf. Romans 4:23-25).
Paul realized that it wasn’t his circumstances, his friends, or his past that needed changing but rather his present, sinful self. He was certain that such a change didn’t come from within but from without, therefore, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7:25)”
Rarely does God reach out and save us unscathed from the consequences of our fantasies of discontent. To do so might leave us thinking that we could continue to fall back into the same sinful desires with no lasting ill effect. However, he never abandons us. When we cry, “Help me, God,” He hears and responds by forgiving that which we have thought, said, and done. He may not stop the catastrophe but He always leads us through. We may carry scars in our flesh or in our memories but we also trust His words: “I will never leave you nor forsake you. (Hebrews 13:5)”
If we hear Him in time and take Him at His Word, we may never find ourselves hopeless at the edge of existence. When we realize that our root problem isn’t that we aren’t smart enough, heroic enough, or well-enough liked but that we are “brought forth in iniquity” and from conception tainted by sin (Psalm 51:5), God also teaches us that our problem isn’t fixed by reinventing ourselves but by being remade by Him. Only from the Lord do we receive “a right spirit” and “a clean heart (v. 10)”
Our rescue isn’t a cheap magic trick. There’s no Mr. Wizard or genii in a bottle to bail us out. The only salvation we have comes through brutally hard work and absolute adherence to the Word and the will of God. Yet it’s not our work or our faithfulness that saves but that of Christ. By the grace of God, through faith in Jesus, we receive the benefits of His perfect obedience and innocent suffering and death.
As God changes our condition, He continues to work on our persons. His discontent with our sinful natures leads Him not to banish us but to repair, restore, and redeem us. He blesses us with the same contentment Paul carried; that is, the peace of knowing that we’re in His care while He works through Word and Holy Spirit to recreate us in the divine image our first parents abandoned in Eden.
We remain works-in-progress as long as we remain on earth. Yet we know that our healing will be complete in the Resurrection. Finally, we will be free of all our sin-brought discontent when we stand before our Savior on the Last Day and hear His invitation to enter His Father’s eternal presence in purity and glory. This story has the real “happily ever after” ending that our broken spirits crave — an ending already guaranteed by our living, loving Lord Jesus Christ.
Scripture quoted from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles.
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Walter Snyder is a Lutheran pastor, conference speaker, author of the book What Do Lutherans Believe, and writer of numerous published devotions, prayers, and sermons.
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Expanded from newspaper column of 19 October AD 2011