Curse you, Norman Rockwell! Wasn’t it you who painted pictures of the idyllic American life?
You know the pictures I’m talking about? The ones where the whole family is gathered around the table with angelic faces, adoring gazes, and grateful hearts! No one is sick, no one appears hurt or angry, no one is depressed or drunk. The “perfect” family.
Let’s add a little Instagram and Facebook into the equation. Look at that beautiful wedding, those sweet grandchildren, those college graduates! Everyone is happy and thriving. Or so it appears! (Comparison, “the thief of happiness,” is a dangerous thing.)
After 54 years on this earth, I know that life isn’t always happy or easy or wonderful for any of us. (But sometimes it is! And I actually enjoy those celebratory FB posts!)
However, let’s not pretend that we don’t all have some less than ideal situations we are dealing with!
None of us will get through life unscathed! Did we think we would be the exception?
Life doesn’t always turn out like we may have dreamed, wanted, or hoped for.
Which one of us got married hoping for disconnection or divorce?
Did any of us have children hoping that one day they wouldn’t speak to us?
How about when your child got diagnosed with cancer, that was a real punch in the gut!
Or how about those thoughtless and hurtful words from someone you loved and trusted?
There are thousands of ways life and people (including you and me) inflict pain.
I recently heard someone say, “Pain is inevitable but suffering is optional.”
Are you scratching your head and wondering what the heck that means?
Here’s how I understand it, there’s the painful event which is undeniable and true (cancer, death, divorce, addictions,…) and then there’s the suffering.
How much we suffer is dependent on us. The suffering volume is turned up or down depending on the stories we tell ourselves and the thoughts that we ruminate on.
“This is not fair!”
“How could this have happened?”
“Why did they do that to me?”
“What if I’d had better parents?”
“What if I’d been a better parent?”
“What if I’d listened to my gut?”
When we ask questions our brains naturally look for answers. Our brains are meaning making machines. We want to understand and so we piece together bits of information to make sense of it all.
The problem is our stories aren’t always true and we make assumptions that are often inaccurate! As a result, we may find ourselves living in a state of turmoil, anger, bitterness, or regret.
So what if we learned to ask different questions when we are in pain?
Teacher and author, Byron Katie, suggests that we ask ourselves the following:
1. Is it true?
2. Can I absolutely know that it’s true?
3. How do I react when I believe that thought?
4. Who would I be without that thought?
I’m asking myself, “Does my life have to look like Norman Rockwell’s portrait to be beautiful?” “Can I let go of my attachment to the beautiful picture in my mind so that I don’t miss out on the beautiful picture I am being given?”
Maybe you need to ask if your life needs to look like the one in the movies to be beautiful? Can it look different from the one your parents, your church, your friends wanted and still be beautiful? Maybe the bigger and more challenging obstacle to overcome is letting go of the life you thought you needed to be happy to accept the one you have.
I think it’s time to challenge some beliefs!
You see, it’s not that the picture you had (or your parents or church had) were necessarily bad. In fact, most of the time those ideals were quite lovely. The problem comes when we believe life has to look that way to be beautiful.
I recently attended an art class. Before we began to paint, the teacher said, “Just remember, it may not turn out the way you want but it can still be beautiful!”
Her words rang true, I felt a shift inside.
Maybe my life and your life haven’t turned out the way we wanted, but there’s a lot of freedom and joy when we can let go of how we (or others) believed it should be and instead open our hearts to embrace the life we have and appreciate the beauty in it.
Good-bye Norman Rockwell, hello Picasso!
Amy Chumbley is a recovering religious addict who began writing as a form of therapy. Her work has been published in several online magazines including: She Loves, Perennial Gen, The Glorious Table, The Grit and Grace Project and more. Her business, “Breathing Room Interiors,” has given her the opportunity to pursue her passion for creating beautiful and functional homes. She is a military spouse, proud mama, and dog lover.
AWAKEN: Nashville, June 9-10, 2023
Join us for this weekend focused on healing, restoration and spiritual freedom from toxic faith.
Our guides for this event will help us recover from spiritual trauma, escape worm theology, and reimagine our connection with God and others to help us move from deconstruction into reconstruction of faith.
AWAKEN 2023 will feature presentations from:
Dr. Jennifer Bird – Author of Permission Granted: Taking the Bible Into Your Own Hands and the forthcoming Biblical Marriage: I Don’t Think It Means What You Think It Means.
Jim Palmer – Jim is a contemporary spiritual teacher, and critically-acclaimed author of five books including Divine Nobodies, and Notes from (Over) the Edge. He is a leading voice in the non-religious spirituality movement.
Karen Shock – Author of Too Much and Not Enough
Laci Bean – TikTok Influencer and Trauma Recovery Coach
Heather Hamilton – Author of Returning to Eden
Eve_Was_Framed – Instagram and TikTok influencer
David Moses Perez – Minister at Spero Dei, Nashville
Keith Giles – Author of the 7-part Jesus Un book series and Sola Mysterium: Celebrating the Beautiful Uncertainty of Everything, and co-host of the Heretic Happy Hour Podcast
Dan Henderson – Author of Confessions of a Recovering Evangelical
Desimber Rose – Author of The Church Can Go To Hell and co-host of the Heretic Happy Hour Podcast
Nat Turney – Author of The Seeds of De(con)struction and co-host of This Is Not Church Podcast
MUSICAL GUEST: Jennifer Knapp – Grammy-nominated recording artist