Beware the white elephants of the soul
At Dawn Prayer this morning, Pastor Ed shared this interesting illustration:
In ancient days when the king of Siam had an enemy he wanted to torment and destroy, he would send that enemy a unique gift, a white elephant, a live, albino elephant. These animals were considered sacred in the culture of that day. So the recipient of that elephant had no choice but to intentionally care for the gift. This elephant would take an inordinate amount of the enemy’s time, resources, energy, emotions, and finances. Over time the enemy would destroy himself because of the extremely burdensome process of caring for the gift.
Being the history geek that I am, I was fascinated by this story! So I quickly did some research and found an interesting article written by Ross Bullen from the University of Western Ontario entitled ‘“This Alarming Generosity”: White Elephants and the Logic of the Gift’. In it, Bullen traces the historical roots of this practice and uses the white elephant as “a paradoxical figure torn between its Eastern and Western definitions…a privileged sign for exploring the relationship between Siamese and American cultures. It is a sign for, among other things, discourses on white supremacy, economic risk and waste, diplomatic gift exchange, and the transnational foundation of both U.S. and Siamese national identity.”
But it is the spiritual metaphor and the manner that Pastor Ed uses it that captures my attention. He led us to pray for God to surface those white elephants in the dark corners of our soul that captivate our time, our energy, our resources and our attention. These activities or things in and by themselves may not be detrimental, but it is when they pull us away from God-honoring pursuits that they become shackles to the soul. Read how an article in The New York Times on 28 May 1873 put it:
“He knows that the beast will eat him out of house and home without the possibility, on his part, of resistance. He cannot sell or give away the fatal gift, for no one would accept it, and the attempt to get rid of it even would be direct treason and sacrilege. He sits down with Oriental resignation to submit to the inevitable, and the white elephant devours his substance.”
Lord, help me not let the white elephants in my soul devour my substance and take me away from pursuing You.