“Go ahead,” the older kids taunted. “Just walk up to the door.”
I surveyed the small, dilapidated building. Waves of fear washed through little, four-and-a-half-year-old me.
What was I even doing there?
Memories from my life on Residence Street in Moscow, Idaho are few and fleeting. My family moved to Moscow when I was two-and-a-half-years old. My dad accepted a teaching position with the University of Idaho to facilitate courses in mechanical engineering. Our family lived in two different houses in that small, university-centric town. Our family’s second home, the house on Residence Street, stood atop a hill on a dead-end street. My 30-something dad built it – board by board and brick by brick.
In that faraway place and long-ago time, kids ran fast and free up and down Residence Street. Even a four-and-a-half year-old like me could roam about without notice or concern. For reasons I cannot fully fathom, I happened to be with a group of older kids one memorable day. I have a recollection that I had been told days before about a caged gorilla. A neighbor held the beast captive in an old shed near the water tower. I hadn’t ventured that way before, but something caused me to follow the kids to see if their enigmatic words were true.
“Do you want to see it?” they pressed.
I don’t think I had ever seen a gorilla up close and personal before – certainly not along Moscow’s Main Street and certainly not at my dad’s university.
I must have been intrigued.
I followed the older kid crowd down the hill towards a diminutive, decrepit, ash-gray-painted building. The door was ajar.
I remember pausing.
If there was a gorilla inside that dark space, why would the door be open?
“Come on,” one of the girls teased. “You aren’t afraid of a gorilla, are you?”
“Just take a peek,” insisted another.
Suddenly, the group surrounded me. Someone pushed me forward. Their malevolent pressure caused me to dig in my feet. I was no match for these big kids, though. The collective, unified strength of these neighborhood bullies thrust me inside the cage with the beast.
My eyes were unaccustomed to the darkness. I couldn’t see it. I didn’t hear, nor could I smell the scary gorilla. But that didn’t stop me from screaming for help and seeking mercy from these callous strangers.
My terror must have satisfied their wicked-mean purposes. Outside, the group burst into gorilla grunts, gorilla roars, and gorilla laughter.
The group’s gorilla noises grew distant as they bounded up the hill and out of sight.
Four-and-a-half-year-old me was abandoned in the dark, empty space feeling sad and cheerless and afraid. Gratefully, the good news was that there was no gorilla. It was just an old building space with a cracked, concrete floor.
I retreated from that cage of deceit and ran home.
I often saw those big kids moving in mass along Residence Street in the days and months following that big-bad-scary-gorilla-that-wasn’t-there day. They’d see me standing outside the front of our unfinished house and taunt, “Hey, little girl! Do you want to go back and see that gorilla?”
They weren’t the kind of kids I wanted to be around.
They weren’t safe.
They weren’t trustworthy.
They weren’t out for my best interests.
Four-and-a-half-year-old-me hadn’t yet known that there are mean kids and adults that lead others on a fool’s hunt for invisible gorillas and then use people like me as a point of ridicule.
This was a big and bold lesson for a four-and-a-half-year-old girl to learn. I can’t say I always figured out which people were safe, trustworthy, and had my best interests at heart in my later years. It took time for me to understand that I needed to be wary of those who promised things they could never deliver. What I do know is that the gorilla-that-was-never-there and other dangers of veiled half-truths and resulting terrors in my life led me to a greater depth of trust and dependence in my God.
When left alone and abandoned in cages of anxiety and despair, the divine light of God broke in upon my soul and ensconced me in His peace and comfort. My God revealed Himself to me as an honorable and strong protector.
As I reflect upon these memories of mistrust, ridicule, anxiety, and deceit from many seasons’ past, I resonate with the psalmist’s words:
Who will rise up for me against the wicked?
Who will take a stand for me against evildoers?
Unless the Lord had given me help,
I would soon have dwelt in the silence of death.
When I said, “My foot is slipping,”
your unfailing love, Lord, supported me.
When anxiety was great within me,
your consolation brought me joy.
New International Version, Psalm 94: 16-19
Tantalizing and terror-driven, big-bad-gorilla distresses could pierce my mind and paralyze me – forever. Certainly, the news of the growing COVID-19 pandemic and its invisible, panic-inducing wake causes similar terror-filled tremors of heart and mind as a four-and-a-half-year-old being trapped with a caged gorilla. Yet, it is the compassion, grace, and mercy of my God who prevents such ruin. His love and tender care can bring me joy upon joy – even in the face of danger and despair and invisible gorilla viruses.
Is it possible to experience the consolation of God in the wake of an invisible terror?
What helped four-and-a-half-year-old me all those years ago, helps me today.
I ran to the safe and secure arms of my parents then. I run to the safe and secure arms of my Heavenly Father now.
I have found my God to be my comforter time and again. I give him every fear, every anxious thought, and every type of gorilla-trouble. I ask Him to see me through – and He has – even when the result was not necessarily what I desired. I trusted Him with the outcome of my need and my pain; and I continue to trust my God today.
In so doing, my God has allowed me to live into and out of these words:
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.
New International Version, 2 Corinthians 1: 3-4
My Dear Friends, we are living in a very distressing time. My prayer for us all is that we will abide in the care and consolation of our God and abound in His joy. I pray that the gorilla-sized thoughts and worries we wrestle with in the dark would disintegrate in the light, love and power of Jesus Christ
I hadn’t thought about my crazy, invisible gorilla memory in years. It’s a wonderful reminder that although there are very real, unkind, malevolent forces in our world, God is still our strength and our defender. He protected me then. He protects me now. May our God do the same for you, my friend.
Just a question – do you have an invisible, anxiety-producing gorilla in your midst that needs to be brought into the divine light of Jesus’s love and compassion?
Ask for your God to help you with it – now.
With love always,