Theodore Geisel (Dr. Seuss) was a modern prophet. At the same time that he entertained children, he used his books and poems to instruct their parents who were reading to them about all sorts of deeper issues. His books contained themes like learning to try something new (Green Eggs and Ham), environmentalism (The Lorax), nuclear armament (The Butter Battle Book), and that “a person’s a person, no matter how small (Horton Hears a Who!).” In his story The Zax, Dr. Seuss addresses the issue of noncooperation.
One day, making tracks
In the prairie of Prax,
Came a North-Going Zax
And a South-Going Zax.
And it happened that both of them came to a place
Where they bumped. There they stood.
Foot to foot. Face to face.
"Look here, now!" the North-Going Zax said, "I say!
You are blocking my path. You are right in my way.
I'm a North-Going Zax and I always go north.
Get out of my way, now, and let me go forth!"
Through the rest of the story, those two Zax never can solve their problem. Neither of them will budge, and each of them insists that the other has to move. By the end of the story, they say:
“I'll stay here, not budging! I can and I will
If it makes you and me and the whole world stand still!"
Of course the world didn't stand still. The world grew.
In a couple of years, the new highway came through
And they built it right over those two stubborn Zax
And left them there, standing un-budged in their tracks[i].
Have you ever had a relationship like that? One where two people reach an impasse, and it seems that no matter what you do, there’s no way to reach peace or get around it? This can happen in any relationship—at home, at work, at school, at church. People get their egos all tangled up so that they feel like they can’t back down without becoming the “loser.” So they stand toe to toe for all time, while everything changes around them and they become more and more irrelevant to other people because of their stubbornness.
On this week of Valentine’s Day, when we focus so much on love, we ask ourselves, “Isn’t there a better way than to live like a Zax?” In Romans 12:9-10[ii], the apostle Paul gives a solution: “Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor.” Whether you’re talking about your spouse with whom you’re fighting, or an argumentative church member, God’s Word calls Christians to let love be real. In other words, don’t say that you love someone while at the same time you’re refusing to budge. Instead of looking at their bad points, hold fast to what’s good in them. Show honor to them, even if it means you have to back down.
Paul continues in verse 11, “Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord.” How can you possibly do this? When relationships are difficult, how can you not lag in zeal and be ardent in spirit? By remembering that it isn’t the other person you’re serving anyway. If you can’t bring yourself to care for the other person, remember that it’s God in them that you’re honoring. Verse 12 says, “Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.” God knows how difficult it is for you to yield to someone who isn’t treating you fairly. But isn’t that what Jesus did as he submitted to arrest and torture, showing love to his persecutors? Just as God sustained Him through prayer, God will be with you. Paul writes, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them (verse 14).” On your own, you can’t do this, but by the power of the Holy Spirit you can “live in harmony with one another (verse 16).” God will help you so that, “If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, [you can] live peaceably with all (verse 18).”
In the story of the Zax, the two who refused to budge remained there until the world grew up around them. Their stubbornness and refusal to yield didn’t result in them getting their way. It only resulted in them living their lives stuck and powerless. They became more and more irrelevant and obsolete to the surrounding community. This is what happens when churches can’t resolve their issues and fight against growth. Interpersonal relationships that refuse to give in are really going nowhere—they get lost in obstinacy.
The line at the center of Seuss’ poem says, “Then the North-Going Zax puffed his chest up with pride.” This shows that pride lies at the center of the issue. When you refuse to move and someone else just will not budge, there’s nothing happening besides two pigheaded people butting heads for eternity. Instead of letting pride overtake your life and causing you to stop in your tracks, Paul says, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (verse 21).” This is the good news of the gospel—this is living like Jesus, who refused to let the evil of his tormenters overcome him, but who instead transformed their sin into salvation. Anyone who calls himself or herself a Christian is called to do the same. Today I pray that you’ll be able to stop, reconsider, and repent (which means to turn around and go the opposite direction). That way the two of you will be holding hands and walking side by side.
[i] Geisel, Theodore. “The Zax.” From The Sneeches and Other Stories. 1961.
[ii] Scripture references taken from the NRSV.