Vision and The Little Prince

By Gwen Sellers

Have you ever read The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry? It was part of the content in a French class years ago and beloved by my sister, but I did not recall the story. So when its illustrations came to mind recently, I was prompted to read it. And I'm glad I did. Literarily, it is no wonder this book is a classic. The imagery and social commentary are at once sobering and beautiful. Personally, what I am most struck by is the concept of vision. The narrator puts at odds grown-ups and children. Grown-ups think they understand what is important about life, but they don't. Grown-ups think they are in touch with reality, but children see what is really going on. Children are willing to dream, to explore, and to look beyond themselves whereas grown-ups are consumed with making themselves feel important. As a young boy, the narrator found himself discouraged by grown-ups who urged him to more practical studies, which he admits were useful. But he ended up with no one to relate to. He might happen upon someone who seemed able to understand his heart, only to discover they did not. So he acted like a "sensible man" concerned with "matters of consequence." He describes it as living life alone. Then he crashes an airplane in the desert and meets the Little Prince, a visitor from another planet. The Little Prince has been on quite the journey, learning various truths about life. He reminds the narrator of what is truly important about life. He revives the narrator's ability to dream.

Perhaps the most touching segment for me in my recent reading of the story is that of the drawing of the sheep. You see, the narrator's dreams were first crushed in drawing. Having just learned about boa constrictor digestion, he drew a picture of a boa constrictor with an elephant in its stomach and suggested that it would be frightening. However, the picture simply looked like a hat because he left the boa constrictor's skin on. So he drew a picture in which one could see the elephant inside, to which the adults responded that he could make better use of his time. His ambitions squelched, the narrator studied acceptable areas and became a pilot. However, even as an adult, he used his first drawing to test whether people would understand him. They didn't. That is, until the narrator crashed in the desert and met the Little Prince. Upon meeting the narrator, the Little Prince requests a drawing of a sheep. The narrator gives him the hat-like drawing of the boa constrictor; and the Little Prince immediately knows what it is. Persuaded by the Little Prince, the narrator attempts various sheep, each of which the Little Prince refuses for some reason or another. Until the narrator draws a box. The sheep is inside the box, and can be whatever the Little Prince wants it to be. Very clever from an adult perspective in so far as how to satisfy a child, but that is not the point. The point is that the box allows room for the vision of the Little Prince. He is able to get to know the sheep inside the box. It can be a living and changing creature. Likely a metaphorical stretch, but this image prompted me to think about my own heart. I wonder if I have too long been looking to others to draw me a sheep that I like instead of getting to know the sheep inside the box. Let me explain.

It is all too easy for me to want a formula for life. Something that I can either perform well or not, but at least a clear target. If it's supposed to be a sheep, I want it to look like one. I don't think God works that way. He knows the dreams He has put in our hearts; and He wants to teach us to tend them and develop them, just like the Little Prince must learn to care for his sheep. The dream might not be so recognizable to others, or at times even to us. What I see as a boa constrictor digesting an elephant might look like a hat to most. What I see as a sheep safe in his home for the night might look like a two-dimensional box to others. But it doesn't look that way to God. In fact, He sees the true picture much more fully than I.

Biblically, I am reminded of people like Noah who was told to build an ark for a flood no one could predict (Genesis 6), Abraham who was told to move his family somewhere he'd never been before (Genesis 12), Moses who was told to lift up his staff and stretch out his hands for the Red Sea to part and make way for escape (Exodus 14), Joshua who was told to march around Jericho to conquer the city (Joshua 6), and many others (see Hebrews 11). God told people to do some strange looking things; but when they obeyed Him, He delivered on His promise. God might give us some strange sounding visions, too. Obviously we need to test the vision and be sure it is from God. But then we are called to walk in faith, relying on God's guidance for each step and trusting Him to continue to unfold the vision for His greater Kingdom purposes. Hebrews 11 talks about those who lived by faith; they accepted God's vision for their lives, obeyed His commands, and contributed to a much greater story. Vision from God is not just about us; it's an invitation to be part of God's universal plan.

In part because God's plans for our lives are not only about us, outside influence for understanding and walking out the vision is helpful. The Little Prince is not sure what the sheep will eat. He doesn't know how to care for it. So the narrator must teach him some things. At the same time, the Little Prince is at first unaware of the damage his sheep could cause to a beloved flower on his planet and needs to be warned and helped with prevention plans. Similarly, we need other people to give us input in the vision God has given us. We need them to help us figure out how to tend the vision and make it grow. We also need them to give us guidance about how the vision might get out of hand or cause unintended damage. Our dreams cannot just be about us, as the sheep is not just about the Little Prince. And yet our dreams can be fragile. Like the narrator, we need to recognize who will understand and help nurture that which God has placed in our heart — those people who will ask us to draw a sheep, who will not deny that some of our drawings are inaccurate or unhelpful but who also will not discourage us from pursuing that for which we were designed. And we need to be aware that there will be those who think we should focus on supposedly weightier matters. We need to be secure in the way God has designed us, to trust Him to let us know what is truly of consequence, and to pursue it without fanfare but also without swerving.

Some of us may need to ask God what the "sheep in the box" is in the first place. Others may need help with how to care for the sheep. Some may need help seeing how the sheep has gotten out of control and submit it back to God's care. For all of us, I pray that God would restore our sense of vision and ignite a passion for His Name's sake. May we faithfully follow our Good Shepherd, trusting that He is the ultimate artist and we are "his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them" (Ephesians 2:10).

Published 3-24-14