Yes! The Monkey Trap analogy! I love this “attention” getter. There’s a little attention getter like this at the beginning of every Gospel Doctrine lesson. They’re all good, but this one I really understand. I get it, maybe because it involves food.
The instructions to the teacher are to make a visual aid using a shoebox with a very short horizontal hole cut in the middle of the side of the box. Then explain to the class that “… a trap like this can be used to catch a monkey. A container is secured to the ground, and a treat (such as nuts or fruit) is placed inside. The hole in the container is large enough for a monkey’s empty hand to enter easily but too small for the monkey’s hand and the treat to come out together… A monkey sees the treat and reaches in to get it. Once the monkey grabs the treat, it will allow itself to be caught rather than let go of the treat. It will not sacrifice this prize for a greater one—its freedom” (Lesson 17: “What Shall I Do That I May Inherit Eternal Life?” New Testament Gospel Doctrine Teacher’s Manual).
The point of this description is to help us see that we make mistakes similar to the monkey. There just may be something we are unwilling to let it go even if keeping it is causing us to lose something better—our freedom to make progress.
The first time I was introduced to this concept I knew my personal monkey trap, the one the devil has my name written all over, was full of kinds and quantities of food and behaviors toward food that definitely limited my freedom. I was in bondage to self-loathing and obesity. No one ever caught me and hauled me off the zoo or to jail, but I did turn my body into its own kind of a prison. I was in bondage. My obsessions in and around food and my unhealthy weight robbed me of energy and hijacked my mind every day for decades.
The next time this particular Sunday school lesson was taught and the monkey trap analogy was used I had taken each of the 12 Steps. I was living in recovery from unhealthy eating. I’d lost my excess weight—97 pounds. I’d been released from the bondage of a problem that had held me captive for more than 40 years. I thought I was done with everything I might learn from the monkey trap analogy, but the Lord had other ideas.
He helped me take another honest look, and I couldn’t have been more surprised at what I found lurking in my monkey trap. There was my hand clenched around the fear of gaining my weight back, self-consciousness about what others thought about my weight loss and my food plan, and a bit of emptiness, wondering what on earth I was going to worry incessantly about if I continued to live in recovery from my obsession with food and weight. Can you believe that waking up every day and simply weighing the same was frightening to me? But it was. Gone was all the big hoopla over pounds lost and what would I do without all the big drama over pounds gained. I found my hand in the monkey trap once again, only this time I was not clenching a fist full of food. It was a fist full of fear. Over time I am becoming willing and empowered by the Lord to let go, not only of unhealthy amounts of food, but of unhealthy—unwarranted fear involving my body.
There was something else in the box I don’t think I would have noticed if I hadn’t been abstaining from addictive eating—something I couldn’t see before. In the box were painful character weaknesses, large and small, that had fueled my addiction all these years—things I couldn’t see as long as I was overeating. Now I could see my impatience, my desire for immediate gratification, my tendency to want to control everything and everyone, my perfectionism, my pride—painful weaknesses I needed to let go of in order to secure my continued recovery—characteristics I was clinging to because they seemed to help me get through the hard times as much as food did.
As 2011 came to a close I had been blessed with three years of what we call, “back to back abstinence.” Through the grace of God I had let go of physical weight and much of the fear of living at a healthy weight, and I was beginning to allow the Lord to chip away at my character defects. But there it was once again, the invitation in the Gospel Doctrine lesson to consider the monkey traps in my life.
This time my eyes were clear and wide open to the possibilities of what I might be clinging to in that old box, things that still slow my progress. This time I actually felt some excitement over what I might discover. You may find that to be strange, but having let go of monkey bait several times through the power of the Lord, I have learned that the first two steps are to become aware and admit that I am clinging to something in that box—that I’m trapped, and then to practice believing that because of the power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ I can let go. I can become free! That’s exciting to me!
I’ve discovered that the devil knows exactly what to put in my box. I also know that what’s in my box is not necessarily what’s in yours. When the prophets tell us that Satan is crafty they’re not “just a kiddin’”! Today I realize that Satan even puts things in the box that are good, really good—like my undying desire to be perfect and for all my children and your children to be perfect too.
What I know today is that anything I grab hold of—anything I want more than anything else can place me in bondage. Freedom comes as I let go of all else, remove my hand from my personal “monkey bait” and take hold of the hand of the Lord. As long as I live on the earth, the monkey trap will be filled with “treats” earmarked for me. It’s not going away, but neither is the invitation and divine power to let go of the innumerable things that can hold me captive and to grab hold and cleave to the hand of the only One who can deliver me from bondage. In the scripture is says that, “he stretches forth his hands unto them all the day long” (Jacob 6:4). The Lord is close. He’s standing right beside the trap. He’s waiting. He knows I can’t even let go without His help. Every day, multiple times each day, I ask the Lord for the power to pry my little fingers off this or that. I testify that nothing feels better or tastes better than being set free by Him.
I thank the Lord for lessons all around! I may not believe my great great great great great grandpa was a monkey, but that doesn’t mean I can’t learn something from the little furry primates.
By Nannette W.
Posted April 6, 2012
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