November 25, 2009

Mind Games

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day. Millions of us have an image of the Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving painting in our heads, and for many, it’s a picture that raises expectations that will not be met.

An article in Sunday’s paper talked about the pressure caused by that one painting. Everyone wants to imagine a happy family filled with gratitude gathered around a table surrounded by love. Yet, even in the best of families, reality doesn’t always line up with the picture in our heads. Apparently Norman Rockwell had a problem with the painting himself, because rationing was in force at the time and he worried that the abundance represented was a little unseemly.

Those of us who are single have images in our heads of what marriage looks like. Mostly the images are formed by our own life experience, or couples we know, or even fictional couples from an unrealistic Ward and June Cleaver to a totally dysfunctional Brie and Orson Hodge.

Sometimes the images come in the form of a sermon illustration. There was one awhile back, where my pastor talked about an older couple he knew. As he told the story, I looked around and noticed the impact the story had on people around the worship center.

The couple he talked about had reached a point in life where they were separated for health reasons. The wife needed nursing care, and the husband was still able to live fairly independently. My pastor took the husband to visit the wife, and as they were leaving, the husband bent over to kiss his wife. My pastor talked about how, in that one kiss, he could picture images of their life together. He could imagine their first kiss. He could imagine the kiss when the wife greeted her husband as he returned from war. I looked around and saw choir members starting to wipe tears from their eyes. I could see people in the balcony reaching for tissue.

At the same time, I was picturing a specific couple. My earliest memory of this couple was when I was in 2nd or 3rd grade, and although they were around the age I am now, in my 7 or 8-year-old mind, they might as well have been 100. I could see the wife standing in line for Wednesday night dinner, and turning to talk to her children, who were probably in high school at that point. The memory was so strong that I could smell the rolls that I somehow associate with this woman, perhaps because Wednesday night dinner was where I usually saw her. As I continued to listen to my pastor, I could see the wife, with graying hair, wearing a starched white blouse buttoned to the neck, with a straight skirt that went a few inches below her knee, and shoes that could only be described as sensible. In my mind’s eye, I could see her husband joining the family as he arrived at church from his office, dressed as he was nearly every time I saw him, in a coat and tie.

My pastor was now telling us he could picture the kiss the couple he was talking about shared when their first child was born.

I was picturing twin beds and wondering if the children of the couple I was thinking about could be adopted.

My pastor went on with the story and I saw many women in the choir give up on wiping the tears away to just let them flow, as some of the men stared intently at the floor. Marital status didn’t seem to make a difference – married, widowed, never-married, or divorced – their faces were reflecting the emotions they felt as listened to the story.

It began to dawn on me that we were seeing different mental images.

Depending on where they were in life, some were seeing something like this…

Others were seeing this…

Or maybe this…

I was seeing something more like this…

The truth is probably somewhere in the middle of these images. A couple that shared a life together, filled moments of passion and moments of sheer drudgery. Moments of pure joy, and moments of intense pain. Moments of laughter, and moments filled with the mundane.

Moments that we all have, whether we’re married or single.

It’s easy to look at couples, imagining that their lives are perfect, and wonder why we can’t have that. But there are also married couples who look at other couples with the exact same feelings, thinking they’re missing something. And there are some who are married who look at those of us who are single and imagine our lives to be something that’s not based on reality either, wondering why they can’t have what we have.

The trick for both married and single, is to learn how not to be distracted by what we don’t have, and to just be grateful for the life that God has given to each of us.

Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus. - 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18


  1. "...just be grateful for the life that God has given to each of us." How so very true!

    You know, life is soooo much more enjoyable when we are living a life of thanksgiving. When in that appreciative mindset, what we see as lacking in our lives doesn't carry such prominence or importance as when we take our eyes off of what is already good and present in our lives.

    I have also found that for those times when we are in need of some extra help to get out of a funky (downer, self-pitying, irritable, stay-clear-of-her, whatever one wants to call it) mood, some good belly-aching laughter will quickly banish all that negativity. So, I must thank you, Margaret for introducing me to the "Stuff Christians Like" blog. I had an uproariously fun time reading some of those blogs and comments.

    Here's to being "grateful for the life God has given to each of us!"