Brave the dangers of the deep and the perils of the human heart with the little mermaid, as she defies the odds to make her dream of immortality come true.
Do ya wanna see a polyp?
See a sea anemone.
Without Rival by Lisa Bevere - I highly recommend this one and Girls With Swords!
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Lost and Found: Stories of Displaced Female Identity - Episode 6
“The Little Mermaid: Cold Foam – Part 2”
Welcome to Lost in the Woods: Finding Your Way as God’s Daughter Through Fairy Tales ™. I’m your host, Autumn Woods, and I’m so excited you’re here. We are continuing our two-part episode arc about our natural longing for immortality, and the raw courage it takes to hold on to that dream and our value when we risk everything for a place in eternity. Last week, we left the little mermaid just before she begins the harrowing voyage to the sea witch’s cottage, to seek the help she desperately needs in her quest to win an immortal soul. We’re taken on the journey with her as she braves the terrors of the deep, weathers the rejection of love, and somehow, rises above her pain to achieve her heart’s desire.
So, let’s get lost, as we begin the conclusion of (The Little Mermaid). Part 2.
That’s an ending that is hard to come off from. It’s difficult not to be angry. As harsh as these terms are, there is more to them than we see at first glance. And once we unpack these nuances and subtleties, and even dispel some odd doctrine, your chest won’t feel so tight, I promise. Don’t wander away from the campfire. We’re about to shed some light on the incredible treasure hidden in the conclusion of this story.
We begin with one of the most terrifying scenes Andersen ever penned. Moving through the fairy tale forest on the way to a forbidden place is unnerving enough. Throw in the mysteries of the deep and the strange, hybrid underwater equivalents of plants and creatures that we would expect to encounter, and you’ve got a nightmare of cinematic proportions. See the show notes for the link to pictures of polyps and anemones. Pretty as they are, they catch their prey by stinging it with poison before grasping and devouring it. Usually, they feed on plankton and small fish. Imagine how monstrous the ones in our story would have to be in order to catch a mermaid.
Terrible as these creatures are, they are not enough to deter the princess from her objective. Although she is incorrect for pursuing answers from an occult source, the mermaid’s quest is causing her to be refined in a trial by fire. In each uncomfortable incident requiring her to make a tough decision, she draws strength from the glory of her goal, and uses that to press onward and make the self-sacrificing choices needed to make her dream a reality. Her determination to attain an immortal soul is not unlike Paul’s remark in Philippians 3:14, “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”
We know that we cannot win salvation, it’s a prepaid gift, but walking successfully in the Christian faith and enduring to the end is an arduous war in itself. We must guard our hearts and minds and prevent the enemy from successfully using our most vulnerable and beautiful aspects to ensnare us and drag us down. Resourcefully, the little mermaid binds her hair around her head and swims with her arms crossed tightly over her chest so that the polyps have no chance of seizing her and preventing her from reaching the end of the forest.
Once she does, the sea witch’s cottage, built of human bones, looms before her. It is ironic that to win a new life, the little mermaid must enter the house of death. Then again, Jesus did it before us and for us. Why should we expect anything different?
The snakes cavorting in the sea witch’s yard hearken back to the serpent influenced by Satan in the Garden of Eden, a symbol of deception and knowledge wickedly obtained at a deadly price. Had Eve run to God with her concerns about what the serpent said, or Adam spoken life over his wife instead of silently waiting and watching while she was fooled, the story would have turned out very differently. God was not holding out on His children, but they had not asked Him for wisdom and knowledge. Ask and you shall receive (Matthew 7:7). The serpent basically told Eve that she had to sin against God in order to be like Him. The sick joke was that Adam and Eve were made in God’s image. They were already like Him! By following demonic advice, mankind bent itself into the image of Lucifer, the fallen angel who pridefully determined to make himself higher than God, and was cast out of heaven, becoming the father of lies we fight against today. For more on these incidents, read Ezekiel 28:11-19, Isaiah 14:12-17, and Genesis 3.
The little mermaid has come to believe the lie that only by becoming human and winning the love of a man can she gain an immortal soul and take part in eternity. All of the influential women around her are touting this message, and she has swallowed it whole. Yes, even the daughters of the air assert this at the end, but it is clearly not so, as our little mermaid is able to become one of them and pursue eternal life under different terms because of the condition of her heart.
Right now, her heart is determined to get the answers she seeks, no matter the cost. The witch has no qualms about telling her how terrible the transformation will be and does nothing to dissuade the little mermaid from her decision to become human. She even piles on extra legalism and lies, just like her counterpart in Eden. “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”. Earlier, the little mermaid is told that a man must forsake his father and mother and marry her before she can receive an immortal soul. Now, she is informed that it must be this specific man she has set her sights on, and that if she fails to win his love and he marries another, she will die of a broken heart and become cold foam anyway. In vain, she will have left behind her home, her family, her station, her remaining 285 years, and something else of infinite value: her voice.
The sea witch demands the princess’ voice in payment for the potent potion she must make. In spite of all of her other gifts, the little mermaid’s voice is the best and most powerful of all, and the witch knows that. The enemy knows that. Why do you think there has been such a battle for women to have a voice in anything that is done? We have transformative power in our own mouths. There is life and death in the tongue; what we bind on earth is bound in heaven, and what we loose on earth is loosed in heaven. “If two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven” (Matthew 18:18-19). This promise is true for all of the saints, but we as daughters of God are strongly in tune with His creative Holy Spirit, and each of us has a special charge as an ezer kenegdo, a strong warrior, protector, and rescuer, to right the wrongs in this world and tear down the kingdom of darkness with our words.
A military officer once commented that America was not winning the war in Afghanistan because our male troops could not speak to the Afghan women to teach them about their value. He said, “‘If you can’t speak to the women, you can’t flip the culture, and if you can’t flip the culture, you can’t win the war’” (Lisa Bevere, Without Rival). Women have great influence in childhood development through teaching, motherhood, and even by being accidental role models. With all of this exposure, we can transfer ideas to young minds and bring up a godly generation of people free of the lies that once held us and those who’ve come before us back. Voices speaking words of life and encouragement over broken hearts revive them and spur them on, like Abigail refreshing an angry, weary David with her kind but firm wisdom. They challenge confining norms of bondage and set people free to run loose in the places God has called them to be. And this powerful tool is what witch tells the mermaid she must surrender in order to be part of the prince’s world. It is what the enemy wants to steal from you by any means necessary so that you cannot proclaim God’s kingdom in the earth and destroy his wicked plans.
How many times have you stayed silent for the sake of being accepted? Or been bullied into saying nothing and never volunteering an opinion or bringing up a solution to a problem that needs to be rectified? Have you ever been denied a voice in a position, institution, or family because of your gender? Then you know how the little mermaid feels. She’s being asked to show up without really coming to the party at all, for the rest of her natural life. This is especially painful because she is gifted in the use of her voice. She is known for it. In order to live forever, she must fall into relative obscurity and hope for the affections of a distant, cruel boy who doesn’t even know she exists. That’s not the future God has planned for His daughters. Not by a long shot. We die to ourselves and take up the life Christ has given us (Luke 9:23), but it is not a life lived quietly in the shadows hoping desperately for love. We are the light of the world and cannot be hidden (Matthew 5:14). And once we accept Jesus, we do not “receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but…the Spirit of adoption,” which allows us to call God our Father (Romans 8:15).
But the little mermaid doesn’t know these things, and so, she sells her most valuable gift to the witch for the hope of eternity. The potion is described as being like crocodile tears. This clues us in that the sea witch really has no compunction about what she is doing to the poor princess. Like the devil, she comes to steal, kill, and destroy, and if her prey throws itself in her lap, so much the better. Did the little mermaid willingly sacrifice her voice? Yes. But as we discussed in “The Goose Girl,” surrendering your authority to the enemy, no matter the reason, gives him a foothold to wreak havoc while you are out from under the Lord’s covering.
When the little mermaid finally leaves the sea witch’s forest, unmolested by the polyps, which now shrink back at the sight of the glowing potion of doom, she knows that she can never go back to her father’s castle. She looks longingly at her home, ashamed to face her family now that she has sold what is most precious to her and reconciled to the fact that she will never see or speak to them again. Like Adam and Eve evicted from Eden, the princess gathers what little she can to remember her home and leaves behind the joy she has known for the uncertainty waiting for her under the open sky, in the broken world of men.
Following the sea witch’s instructions, the mermaid swims to shore before sunrise, scooting onto the steps of the prince’s castle, and drinks the potion, which produces such agony in her that her body faints, mercifully sedating her as the painful transformation process begins. She awakens to find the prince standing over her, and the most beautiful pair of legs on land attached to her aching body. Suddenly realizing that she is naked, she envelops herself in her hair. Sound familiar? She cannot answer the prince when he asks her who she is and how she came there, but her eyes truly are expressive enough to win him over. Her primary gift may be gone, but her secondary ones are becoming more prominent. A bit of Wilderness Bootcamp is taking place. Stripped of her natural means of communication, the mute mermaid learns to speak effectively with her eyes and movement.
Despite the excruciating pain in her feet, the little mermaid moves as gracefully as a swan through the human world, enchanting everyone she meets. Sometime in my teens, I coined the phrase “I’m doing this on mermaid’s feet,” meaning that while everyone around me may be impressed with the grace and dexterity in which I do difficult things, they have no idea of the pain or the cost I bear internally while I do them. I think we all have some of that. And we don’t share it because we are proud and don’t want to be vulnerable. Like the little mermaid climbing the mountains, we laugh at the blood streaming from our feet and wear our lack of sleep and our threadbare social lives like badges of honor, because we believe our goal is greater than the pain. The healthier version of this kind of coping is mentioned in Romans 8:18, when Paul says, “For I consider [from the standpoint of faith] that the sufferings of the present life are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is about to be revealed to us and in us!”. The hope for eternal life continuously allows the little mermaid to grin and bear anything that can be thrown at her. Unfortunately, this also makes her almost blind to the fact that the edges of her new world are beginning to crumble around her burning feet.
Everyone in her life, her merfamily, the members of the court, even the prince himself, begins to warn her that he will soon marry another, and she will be lost. Her faith is so great that no one’s words or glances can sway her from her conviction that the prince will come to love and marry her in the end. I’ve been there myself, frankly. The guy I had liked for almost a year broke up with me after we went out for one day—before I even had a chance to ruin the relationship. I was heartbroken when he rejected me, but through the sorrow, I was still convinced that this was a temporary setback in the grand scheme of things. And it was. We ended up getting married many years later, and he’s told me several times that what happened back then was stupid and that he’s very happy he changed his mind about me. I know that’s not everyone’s story. It’s not the little mermaid’s either. But I wish it was.
Frankly, I’m disgusted with this prince. Can we get Cinderella’s prince to hop stories and educate him about how to treat beautiful strangers who show up at your castle? This prince “allows” our heroine to sleep outside his door on a velvet cushion—can’t he even give her her own room?!—and treats her more like a pet or a favorite child, having outfits made for her, taking her everywhere with him like an accessory, leading her on with almost sweet words, and talking frankly to her about another woman he is in love with whom she resembles. He doesn’t even realize that he does all these things to the woman who saved his life! He would not even be here to moon over this mysterious woman if she hadn’t been kindhearted enough to rescue him from drowning. She is used and kept at arm’s length. He does not acknowledge her true value beyond his own needs and desires.
I’m sad to say that veteran Christians tend to do this to new brothers and sisters who are eagerly looking to us to show them how to live and love and what it means to be a child of God. We get nasty in our exclusivity and forget that other people have feelings and need time and guidance while they are experiencing things we’ve already gone through. Sometimes, we’re even sick enough to take joy in their struggles, rather than stepping in with love and wisdom to help them make it through. It’s sad when the world knows how to love better than we do, since we are supposed to be ambassadors of God’s love.
We get a glimpse of this when the little mermaid travels with the prince to meet his prospective bride, and her sisters follow the boat, empathizing with their poor sibling, wishing to be there with her even though she has deserted her home and embarked on a seemingly foolish quest. Even then, they love and support her, and only want the best for her. They know and value her for who she truly is, and firmly believe that she deserves a better ending.
The little mermaid does too, but she truly loves the prince and wants to share in his joy, even though it is literally killing her. She laughs and dances with death in her heart, moving more beautifully than ever to the music played on deck in celebration of her beloved’s marriage to another woman. To add insult to injury, this woman, who found the prince on the beach after the mermaid rescued him, is our heroine’s doppelganger. Both women are princesses, and the human one matches the physical description of the little mermaid. Sad when men see us as interchangeable, isn’t it? The crazy thing is, even without a soul, the little mermaid loves him better than his new bride ever could, because she not only saved his life, but was willing to lay hers on the line for the chance to be with him. And even now, she refuses to destroy his happiness. Pushing through the pain, the little mermaid uses her hard-won human body to deliver a physical swan song before she must surrender herself to the sea. The prince will never know all she has risked and sacrificed for his sake. The adoration of the onlookers cannot heal the hurt in her heart as she watches the man she loves with everything in her, more than a father and mother, who lives constantly in her thoughts, draw the curtain of the bridal pavilion, and lead his new wife inside.
We know what it is to pour our hearts into someone, giving all that we have, only to be dismissed and taken for granted. Even Jesus is familiar with the cruel rejection of pure love. He loves more perfectly than anyone on earth ever could, and still He is despised in favor of loveless gods that can’t bring comfort or peace. He has loved us with an everlasting love, so much so that He gave up His royal position, His home, and His place by the side of the Father, to become human; to experience life as we do, and live it perfectly as the ultimate sacrifice so that we would be able to return to His kingdom with Him, never to part from Him again. He came to His own, but His own did not receive Him. He “longed to gather [the people of Jerusalem] together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and [they] were not willing” (Matthew 23:37). Amidst the celebratory sounds heralding His arrival in Jerusalem before He too would be killed like the prophets and messengers who came before Him, His soul wept for those who would not allow His love to rescue them.
Like the Savior in Gethsemane, the little mermaid sorrowfully contemplates the dreadful agony she must suffer. Gazing out at the stars and the sea, she waits for the rays of the sun, the symbol of the surface she adores so much, to come and destroy her, as the prince’s rejection has done. Suddenly, her sisters appear before her, but no longer as they once were. Remember that when the little mermaid surrendered her authority, she left the door wide open for the enemy to plague her. Now, her sisters have fallen prey to the allure of the occult in order to save their sibling. They have sacrificed their hair, their crowning glory, to the sea witch, in order to obtain a knife that will end their sister’s misery, if she will use it to kill the prince, spattering her feet with his blood. When the sea witch initially explains the rules of the bargain to the princess, she tells her that she can never become a mermaid again once she drinks the potion. Now, suddenly, it is possible for her to have her tail restored at the expense of her sisters’ beauty and the prince’s life. Destruction, lies, and death. Who does that sound like?
Whether or not the little mermaid recognizes the terrible manipulation being exacted on her and her family, she must now decide what to do with the information she is given. She is hurt and devastated by what the prince has done to her in his ignorance. This would be the perfect way to lash out and take revenge for all he cost her. Even if she could never speak again, at least she could be with people who truly love her and live out the remainder of her 300 years as a princess rather than a lapdog. Drawing back the curtain, the princess contemplates the awful deed. But she can’t do it. She sees the love the young couple has for each other and knows that even if the prince had chosen her, she would always be fighting a ghost, unable to compete with the dream woman from the beach who has taken residence in his heart. She cannot, in good conscience, deny to anyone the happiness she longs for and can never have. She would be no better than the ones who stand in its way. In a final act of sacrificial love, the little mermaid flings the knife and herself into the sea, laying down her own life and desires that the prince may live. “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13).
Rather than dying and turning into sea foam, the little mermaid rises up, becoming a daughter of the air, and is put on the path to immortality, independent of the will of men. Everything she has lost is restored to her. Her voice miraculously returns even more beautiful than before. She is granted three hundred years of life, and the ability to fly through the air, no longer bound to one realm at a time. She can cry real tears of relief and joy. Where once she had six sisters, she now has hundreds. She is even given meaningful, Godly work to do, bringing healing, comfort, and rest to people in harsh circumstances, with the promise of one day receiving a place in eternity. In short, she is called to do what she does best: love.
We as saints are meant to do the same, and to lay down our schemes, desires, and ambitions for the sake of the one who sacrificed His life for us that we need never be separated from God again. It is a different life than what the world expects us to live. It’s like being caught between two realms, with our feet on the earth, and our eyes and hearts turned toward the kingdom of heaven, much like the little mermaid. We are commanded to love and encourage each other and pray for our enemies; to bring relief and encouragement to the weary with our words (Isaiah 50:4). There are things that we give up and live without in the name of righteousness. It isn’t easy, and sometimes we feel like we’re missing out on some secret bliss that the world knows, and we don’t. But Jesus says that whoever loses their life for Him will find it in eternity (Matthew 16:25; John 12:25).
Like the little mermaid in her new form, we are given a limited amount of time on this earth to do God’s work as diligently as we can. We do not have to win salvation, and our entry into the kingdom of heaven is not predicated on the actions of others. The strange, guilt-trip style comments at the end of the story about the behavior of others affecting our arrival into the kingdom can be put into perspective this way. When we see Godliness at work in others, it gives us hope, and makes the time between this life and the next wonderful; our spirits are eased. But when we see turmoil and strife, when people begin to behave like monsters, we weep, and we say, “How long, oh Lord, how long?”. It feels like we’re stuck on a hamster wheel of horrible news and we can’t hop off. It’s hard to endure and stand. But, before He even laid eyes on the cross, before the victory was won in the natural, Jesus said, “In the world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). We inherit His victory and the benefits thereof. It is for freedom that Jesus set us free, and we must use that freedom to make the biggest impact we can for His kingdom, whether it is big or small seen or unseen. Whatever we do, we do with the freedom to love. Thanks for stopping by. I’m Autumn Woods, and I can’t wait to see you on the path next time you get, Lost in the Woods.