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Is Everybody Really Fine?
Those We Love Can Remain Painfully Elusive
The Christmas holidays almost always provide parents a chance to catch up on the lives of their grown up children. Not just in how they are managing with their lives away from home, but what’s happening to them in a spiritual sense. Somehow parents need to know that everything’s fine.
A film entitled Everybody’s Fine is the story about a father and widower, Frank Goode, who receives word from all his children that they won’t be coming home for their summer reunion. His great concern for the children leads him to make the trek toward them instead. The road trip leads him to make a surprise visit to each sibling. Frank sets out to see his artist son in New York City, his daughter the ad exec in Chicago, his son the conductor on tour and presently in Denver, and his daughter who’s a performer in Las Vegas. As he comes in contact with each child, their hidden stories unravel before him. None are as he imagined or hoped for. Everything isn’t what it seemed as he faces the challenge of sorting out their broken and wounded lives.
While on a train, Frank carries a conversation with a complete stranger. As the telephone poles rush by, he points out to the stranger that he was responsible for working in a factory where he covered telephone wires. He states, “A million feet of wire to get them where they are today.” The fruit of Frank’s work in covering telephone wires symbolizes his success. He reflects upon his life work, “all the conversations that have taken place over that wire, breaking good news and bad news.” Ironically, just as he covered these wires, his conversations with his children throughout the years may have been all good, yet they too covered up the wires of bad news in their lives. In truth, the lines were crossed and there existed a disconnect between Frank and his four children. Everybody wasn’t fine underneath the facade of fragile lives.
Another film entitled A River Runs Through It focused on the lives of two fly fishing sons of a Presbyterian minister living in the 1920s rural Montana. Norman, the oldest brother is reserved, while Paul, the younger, is rebellious in his ways. As adults, Norman matures and pursues a college degree to become a level-headed English professor. He remains grounded in his career path. Paul, on the other hand, continues to sow his wild oats. He stays in Montana becoming a journalist who pursues a reckless path toward gambling and drinking. The lives of the two brothers are as different as night and day. The only thing they have in common is their love of fly fishing.
Sadly, Paul's persistent and rebellious ways cost him his life. Norman's girlfriend, Jessie, wonders about Paul's choice to walk the crooked path and how it led to his untimely end. She asks Norman, "Why is it the people who need the most help... won't take it?"
Norman reflects upon Jessie's question along with his late brother's choices and thinks to himself, "It is those we live with and love and should know who elude us."
The father of Norman and Paul, Reverend Maclean, in a church Sunday sermon says, “Each one of us here today will at one time in our lives look upon a loved one who is in need and ask the same question: We are willing to help, but what, if anything, is needed? For it is true we can seldom help those closest to us. Either we don't know what part of ourselves to give or, more often than not, the part we have to give is not wanted. And so it is with those we live with and should know, who elude us. But we can still love them—we can love completely without complete understanding.”
This season has caused me to contemplate upon the lives of my oldest son in Seattle, my newly-married daughter in San Diego, and my youngest daughter in San Francisco. The West Coast has beckoned each one to make their bones along its shores. As I set out to reconnect with my own children this Christmas, I must not ignore the fact that life and the choices presented to each one is difficult as it is challenging. And in spite of our desire to reach out and offer help to those we love, our kids can remain painfully elusive like Norman's younger brother Paul, or too covered up like Frank's four children.
One thing I do know is that for as long as our lives intertwine like a million miles of telephone wire, we continue to communicate and connect with each other under the shadow of our Father in heaven. Even if everything really isn't fine or isn't exactly what it seems, we can still share a common love for each other amidst the conflicting differences.
Someone once said, "God doesn't have grandchildren." Parents can only participate in the greater plan that God has in store for them. Yet it’s hard to let go. We seem to somehow feel deeply responsible for the paths they have chosen to tread today. Every child born into this world will have to grow up and experience God directly on His terms. When it comes to our children, parents need to know that the Lord is in complete control of their lives and desires to become very real to them in an experiential way.
Ultimately, we must trust that God is in the process of shaping our lives, along with our loved ones, to fulfill the purposes He created us for. And so it is for those we love unconditionally. "Love," after all, "bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things..." We can love our children completely without complete understanding.
All blessings this Christmas season,