Norman Rockwell was a multi-talented 20th century prolific painter and illustrator. His “homespun” pictures of Americana were seen on the covers of many magazines including “The Saturday Evening Post”. Rockwell tried to capture the essence of regular Americans: men and women who worked hard, children at play, Boy Scouts, and the family gathered together.
In one series of paintings called “The Four Freedoms,” Rockwell captured the essence of Franklin Roosevelt’s famous 1941 speech and depicted ordinary citizens enjoying the freedom to express themselves, the freedom to worship as they wished, the freedom to live without fear and the freedom from want.
It was his picture entitled “Freedom from Want” (1942) that has stirred the imagination of generations, especially during the holidays. As we look at that simple family gathered around a festive table about to enjoy a wonderful family celebration, we can’t help but do a bit of comparing.
With Christmas less than a week away, almost every conversation includes some reference to the key question of “what are you doing for the holidays?” Listen carefully, and soon our friends and neighbors will begin to regale details about every manner of family gathering. “We are all going to Mom’s.” Or maybe, “We have small children, so everyone is coming to our house this year.” Or, “All of my brothers and sisters are flying in for the week; we wouldn’t miss an opportunity to be together.”
As these “picture perfect” holiday descriptions begin to rebound all around us, we might begin to compare our situation with everyone else’s. As Rockwell’s perfect family comes to mind, we quickly picture our last family gathering and we begin to feel a bit “short changed.”
But the truth is, not everyone’s family loves to get together. Not all nieces and nephews are darling. Not all siblings enjoy doing the same holiday traditions. Not all parents are fun to be with. Some extended families cause each other a great deal of grief when they gather together.
Some families are just plain fractured. And this season makes those wounds even more painful.
Very few of our families are truly like the ones depicted in Rockwell’s paintings-not even his own family. Rockwell was married three times. He divorced his first wife. Both he and his second wife had to receive psychiatric treatments. It was such a dysfunctional situation that one of Rockwell’s friends once remarked that “he painted his happiness, but did not live it.”
And the families we read about in the scripture had some issues too. Go take a look at the sibling rivalry between Cain and Abel or Isaac’s boys. Consider the tension among Jacob’s sons. Muse a bit on the relationships in David’s family. There are plenty of Biblical examples of how not to raise a family!
So what do we do this week if our plans for Christmas celebrations fall a bit short of the stereotypical Rockwell meal? May I make a suggestion? Cut yourself and your family a little slack. It is just a holiday (of course a MOST important remembrance of the MOST important incarnation), but still a man made winter celebration. Lower your expectations for the festivities. Be delighted with what you have and who you celebrate it with. Relish the joys at hand (however they present themselves) and keep focused on the baby in the manger!
By His Grace and for His Glory,
Sherry L. Worel