One of my favorite things about being a parent is an excellent children’s book that is not only short, but packs a good gospel punch. Suzanne Bloom’s book, A Splendid Friend, Indeed, is such a book. When I first read it to my oldest son, years ago, I couldn’t help but try to choke back the tears at the end. The story is not merely ‘touching’, but gets at a gospel truth: unconditional love, no matter what our actions are towards the lover.
The story goes something like this (yes, spoiler alert):
There are two characters: a polar bear (Bear) and a white duck (Duck). The book opens with Bear deep in a book and Duck, having climbed on to Bear’s head, puts his head right in Bear’s face (eye to eye but upside down),
“What are you doing? Are you reading?” asks Duck. Sitting between Bear and his book, he says, “I like to read.” Bear is exasperated and turns away from Duck as Duck takes over the book and asks Bear if he wants to hear him read.
Bear finds something new to do; this time, Bear is writing. Duck approaches and repeats the same series of questions causing the same amount of exasperation in Bear. Bear can barely tolerate Duck and furrows his brow, the unstated frustration obvious; Bear wishes for this little Duck to leave him alone…what a nuisance, just get lost and leave me alone!
There’s one more exchange between Duck and Bear with Duck doing all the jibber jabbering, which ends with Duck announcing that he’s gonna go make a snack. Bear, obviously greatly relieved by Duck’s absence, returns to his to writing notebook.
But Duck comes back…with his snack…and a note; a note which he announces to Bear that he will read aloud. Bear has now buried his head in his notebook in utter exasperation and irritation…just go away Duck, you bothersome nuisance. But Duck, undeterred by Bears frustration pursues him and reads his note:
Bear’s response? Frankly, it’s shock and, consequently, reciprocal love.
“Thank you. I like you, too. Indeed, I do. You are my splendid friend. My splendid friend, indeed.”
The back of the book has a review that says, “Adorable tale of friendship and patience.” Frankly, the story has very little to do with patience. Duck loves, in a tangibly unconditional way, Bear. Bear has given him every reason to leave. But Duck doesn’t, not because he’s determined to turn Bear, but because he can do nothing else but just love Bear. I get choked up not with Bear’s response, but with Duck’s proclamation: I love you, Bear, for no other reason than I just do.
This is the type of love we all desire: the kind that is undaunted when we are at our ugliest and meanest and most alienating. In so many of our relationships we intentionally or unintentionally push that boundary: Do you love me? Even now? Husbands and wives, sons and mothers, daughters and fathers, and friends, we push this boundary, always hoping to hear, “Yes, I do still love you.” Sometimes, unfortunately but realistically, our relationships don’t stand that test. Indeed, we all know how exhausting such tests can be, for both parties. But with Christ it is not so. He can handle and withstand our child-like boundary pushing: do you still love me, even now? Even more than that, He, like Duck with great joy and love, radically and relentlessly pursues us to the depths with the greatest love note ever written:
I love you so much; I will never leave or forsake you and I will lay down my life for you, even now.